The second that Rena Lafaille, Director of Administration at the ASPCA Adoption Center, met Phoenix, it was love at first sight.
In December 2020, Rena was helping out around the Adoption Center, when Stanley Seabrooks, Lead Animal Care Technician, intentionally assigned her to Room K, where Phoenix was being housed.
“I know Rena has a soft heart for special animals, so I asked her if she wanted to give some special attention to one of our little buddies,” Stanley recalls. “I know from previous experience with Rena that she can be in her office and if you tell her there’s a special animal downstairs, she’s going to stop working because she has to go see them.”
When Rena walked into the room, she saw Phoenix “wobbling around” in her cat condo.
“The moment I saw Phoenix from her little condo, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, she is very special looking,” Rena recalls.
Phoenix, a four-year-old longhaired black cat, was born with a congenital disorder which causes abnormally short front limbs and a short tail. Phoenix also had hair loss on various parts of her body.
“My heart kind of broke when I saw her. I was like ‘Oh my goodness, you have been living this way all your life and you have no idea that you’re kind of…special,’” Rena explains. “I had never seen a cat like her before. I just knew she was going to be a part of our household.”
Phoenix Gets a New Home
Rena is not new to the world of cat parenting, in fact she has adopted “a couple” of cats from the ASPCA, including a tripod and a burn victim, all of which started out as foster cats but soon enough became a more permanent part of her growing family.
To be absolutely sure of her decision to bring another cat—especially another specially-abled cat—into her home, Rena first fostered Phoenix, just like she had with all of her other cats. This way, she knew that everyone at home would get along.
When Rena first brought Phoenix home, the other cats were very curious to meet her. But in order to slowly acquaint Phoenix with the rest of the cats, Rena kept her in a separate room. That was until one of the other cats, Lucas, snuck his way into Phoenix’s room. Fortunately, they immediately got along, sniffing one another. Lucas even plopped himself right down onto Phoenix’s bed.
After seeing how well Lucas and Phoenix reacted towards one another, Rena cautiously introduced Phoenix, one by one, to the other cats.
“Phoenix was not bothered at all. In fact, I think she was happier to have company,” Rena explains.
By January 2021, Rena had made it official and adopted Phoenix.
Navigating Life as Part of the Family
Despite taking on life a bit differently than other cats, Phoenix has no idea she’s special. She does exactly what all her brother and sister cats do—just in her own way!
When Phoenix jumps off the couch, she has learned not to jump head-first. Instead, she will grip onto the couch, “scoot back” and then hop off back paws-first.
The only area in which she has some difficulty is using the litter box.
“She really really wants to cover her business, but she can’t, so she stays in there for quite a while until I’m like ‘Okay, you don’t have to do that anymore!’” Rena tells us.
Yet, Rena and her family don’t see it as a challenge.
“We just see it as Phoenix being Phoenix.”
Phoenix joining the Lafaille family was not only a blessing for her but brought a bright light to the family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, Rena’s family could not socialize with others, leaving her young daughter, Celeste, unable to see her friends. Bringing Phoenix home has given Celeste someone to play with.
Celeste compassionately even asked her mother, “Phoenix doesn’t have legs, but is she okay?”
Celeste isn’t the only one Phoenix has helped, Rena sees Phoenix as a reminder to not take things too seriously.
“If I’m ever sad about something, I just look at her and she brings a smile to my face. She is just the funniest,” Rena tells us. “She has just brought a lot of joy into our lives that we haven’t had a whole lot of during COVID.”
Living in the Big Apple
Since being adopted, Phoenix travels to work at the Adoption Center with Rena often, taking the bus while sitting in a little backpack Rena wears on the front of her.
For a while, Rena and her husband debated changing Phoenix’s name, but soon came to realize it was the perfect fit.
“When I think of a Phoenix, I think of a bird rising from the ashes. And that’s who Phoenix is. She went from the state of being stressed out in the shelter to how she is now.”
Being the adopter of multiple specially-abled cats, Rena has learned a thing or two about animals who may look a little different. The main point she emphasizes to others, is that though they look differently, there’s nothing different about then in terms of personality.
“Animals with disabilities are extremely resilient, they just don’t know it. They are set to live a happy life like any other animal out there,” Rena continues with advice for others considering adopting a pet like Phoenix.
“They will certainly act like a normal animal and they have certainly learned to adapt to their life. It really isn’t a burden at all. Keep an open mind, you just never know how much happiness these animals can bring to your life.”
We at the ASPCA could not thank adopters like Rena enough. Open-minded adopters provide vulnerable animals with places to call home, and someone to love them for who they are.
“I knew Rena, at first sight, was going to fall in love with Phoenix,” says Stanley. “That’s just who she is. She goes for the underdog.”
During Adopt a Shelter Cat Month this June, we encourage you to consider opening your heart and home to an animal in need and to help make more stories like Phoenix’s possible.