It’s often said that cats have nine lives, meaning that their resilience and hardiness is awe-inspiring.
This certainly applies to Zipper, a six-month-old kitten whose will to live amazed the staffs at the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH) and Kitten Nursery when she arrived as a medically compromised stray last May.
Zipper was humanely trapped by one of the ASPCA’s longtime Kitten Nursery caregivers, Iris Lugo, behind an abandoned rectory in East Harlem. Iris is part of The New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, which supports the efforts of organizations and individuals who work to help stray and feral cats—collectively known as “community cats”—and perform Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) in New York City.
What Iris and her fellow trapper Daisy didn’t realize when they caught Zipper—one of four kittens they trapped that day—was that she had a mangled left hind leg, likely the result of getting stuck under a rusty chain link fence on the lot where she was found.
At intake, tiny, injured Zipper weighed just over half a pound—about as much as two pop tarts or a $2 roll of nickels.
“She was a ball of fur and feces when she arrived,” says Dr. Ralph Tran, a veterinarian at the Nursery who took a liking to the feisty feline. Dr. Tran was not alone.
After veterinarians cleaned and bandaged Zipper’s leg—because she was too young for surgery—and administered antibiotics and pain medication, Dylan Bennett, another Nursery caregiver, took over her care. “She used to cry a lot all day and all night,” recalls Dylan. “But she was always calm around me.”
Soon, however, Zipper’s story would take another tragic turn. The tenacious tabby managed to tear off her cast and chew her injured leg and paw, resulting in the loss of her paw.
Dylan continued to feed and clean her daily. He liaised regularly with the medical staff about her condition and helped change her cast, making sure it was clean at all times because she had an open wound.
“I really grew to love her,” says Dylan. “And she was just so cuddly.”
Once she was old enough to be spayed, the rest of Zipper’s compromised leg was amputated. And in a heartwarming twist to Zipper’s tale, Dylan and his girlfriend Karina fostered her through her recovery and eventually adopted her.
Meanwhile, another kitten, Miss Beautiful, has since come under Dylan’s radar, and he and Karina are also fostering her. Miss Beautiful, found in Brooklyn, had an infection that caused her left eye to rupture, but once her eye is removed, Dylan and Karina will adopt her as well.
Dylan tells us that their small family is happier than ever and that Karina, who had never had a pet before Zipper or Miss Beautiful, loves them both. Dylan, however, grew up with six cats, though he reports none was as friendly as Zipper with whom he shares a special bond. “She likes to be in same room as me and even sleeps by me.”
Dylan, who has been at the Nursery for six months, acknowledges that caring for kittens is a lot more work than he thought it would be, and that a tremendous amount of care and love goes into getting kittens ready for adoption.
Iris, in her fourth year at the Nursery, has trapped and rescued more than 70 kittens who have made their way through the Nursery. Zipper was number 30.
“People like Iris, who voluntarily trap and improve the lives of colony cats, also make it possible for hundreds of kittens a year to go on to a wonderful life in an adoptive home like Dylan’s,” says Megan Mahan, manager of the Nursery and the Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment (CARE).
For her part, Iris says, “It was especially great to hear that Zipper made it,” adding with a smile that cats, indeed, must have nine lives.