One Christmas Eve many years ago a cat with some serious injuries showed up on the porch of the Castle Valley Inn. My mother, the owner of the inn at the time fell in love instantly and she spent the next year trying to tame one wild beast. She named him Buster (which is very close to the word busted, and that was a good explanation of his condition). Buster was feral and had been attacked by something large a dog, coyote, or maybe a mountain lion. He is brilliant white with some small black details on his head and tail and in addition he is 15 lbs so his size and coloring meant he didn’t stand a chance out in wild Castle Valley. We fed him a can of food that evening and in the morning he was still hiding under the porch. So we called the feral cat program and got a trap to catch him.
We trapped him the next day and took him to one of the local vets to get checked out. They were able to neuter him and tend to his serious neck and facial wounds, but his prognosis was not great. He had 37 teeth removed because of a seriously broken jaw, and was paralyzed on the right side of his face. One ear was bitten off and the other had been seriously damaged by frostbite. His wounds had become infected and he smelled well, terrible. Because we couldn’t touch him to help clean the wounds, it would be antibiotics in his food and some luck to keep this kitty going. With some luck and persistence, it worked
After his trip to the vet he remained outside but stuck close to the house, the porch was his “safe place”. He healed well and his face is now shaped similarly to a snake, no real ears to speak of and a jaw that healed together in a point at the front of his face. His right eye only blinks with the pink inside eyelid, and the eye remains open when he sleeps, just like Rambo! At first he would run if you got within two paces of him, but as the months passed he let you get closer as he ate. My mother was not deterred by this stand-offish demeanor and in fact took it as a challenge. She would get closer and closer and he would swipe and hiss the whole time. After many more months he would come and be near you on the patio rubbing his funny little head against your shoes, but wouldn’t allow any petting.
One day he ventured inside the house with the back door open, the door shut behind him and he proceeded to climb the drywall. Illegal fireworks inside weren’t as scary as this poor cat; he was beside himself and explosive. We decided to all evacuate the house, and leave the back door open and stayed quiet and out of sight to reduce his stress. After a few hours of hiding behind the toilet he ventured back out to the patio. We knew it was too much too soon. My mother was so excited at the idea of him being inside that we made it a goal, devised a plan and all stuck to it. The back door was left open whenever weather allowed and basically paid no attention to him if he ventured inside to look. Eventually we started setting his food bowl just inside the door to help him associate good things with being inside.
The inn was up for sale, and there was now a serious offer. My mother was looking at moving into town here in Moab. She knew the new owners had a dog, and Buster was not OK with dogs. It was getting obvious that he may be forced into being inside. The closing and sale got closer and closer, and Buster was still making no progress towards being touched, or staying inside. Then it happened, the week before the closing someone who didn’t know him picked him up, we gasped! Usually there was blood involved in such action, usually your own. He let them hold him and pet him, even if it was just for a moment it still happened, then he let us do it again, it was like he knew that time was running out.
The big move came, and he handled it like a champ. His new home had two new kitties in it and although they were not fond of him he didn’t mind them at all. He was required to stay inside and didn’t mind that at all either. In his first new home, we put a litter box in the room he stayed in temporarily, and hoped he took to it. Again like a champ the next morning there was a poop in the box, not on the floor. Buster got more and more tolerant of petting, and even began to seek out human attention after a few more months. Then a kitten was brought as a gift to my Mom and that’s when we found out Buster had a fantastic nurturing side. This little kitten was wild and was named Allover and Buster just loved him and when this tiny kitty wanted to nurse, Buster even gave him a belly to kneed and suckle.
My mother passed away a few years ago, and we inherited Buster. We have known him since the beginning of his great adventure, and he is the sweetest most tolerant kitty we have ever had. That being said, he does still have his limits, and we respect those huge claws of his. Because of his mouth injuries he is on a strict diet of grain-free wet food. We found he was more likely to throw up when he ate kibble because he can’t chew, so we avoid it. For a few years he was shaved in the summer because his coat was so hard to maintain, but now as senior it is unsafe to put him under for this procedure so we switched to better food and a Furminator de-shedding tool weekly to deal with all that fur.
All in all he is one of the best kitties ever, but he and most feral cat come with some unique challenges. We tried our best and made mistakes in his rehabilitation, but we also know many people have tamed and taken in feral cats, and in all, we hear they have made amazing pets. It takes some patience and persistence but it’s really rewarding too! Moab has a pretty serious feral cat problem, so if you are feeding a stray remember there is a great program here in Moab that will spay/neuter plus vaccinate each kitty for $15, call 435-259-8823. Help us keep the feral population under control.