It was dark, close to 10 p.m., when Barbara King spotted a stray cat near a Dumpster on Aug. 7 while driving down Old Country Road in Plainview.
King, 47, of Syosset, pulled over and took out cat food. She used to run a Plainview cat rescue called Purrfect Kitty and says she always keeps food in her car for scenarios like this.
But as she placed the can on the ground in front of the cat, a group of four kittens ran toward it, too.
While the kittens looked clean and healthy, the older cat, which King assumed was their mother, was emaciated and struggling to breathe, but appeared to be more concerned with protecting the litter.
For the next three nights, King returned to the same spot, and each time she found the older cat sitting outside the Dumpster, as if trying to draw attention to itself, she said. King noticed the cat would make strange sounds while trying to simultaneously eat and breathe out of its mouth since its nasal passage had some type of blockage.
But on Aug. 10, a Saturday evening, it stopped eating altogether.
King knew she needed to get the animal to a vet, but couldn’t leave the kittens, so with help from her fiance, Tom Landherr, 47, she lured the cat into a cage using the food, and three of the kittens followed. They caught the fourth with a trap.
“This cat wouldn’t have lasted much longer out there,” said King, adding that it weighed only 6 pounds, the normal weight for a 6-month-old kitten. “It was just skin and bones.”
The following Monday she brought the cats to Animal General in East Norwich, where veterinarian Ellen Leonhardt treated them. The kittens had only minor respiratory infections, but she removed a three-quarter inch polyp from the adult cat’s nasal cavity. Leonhardt said these growths, which result from chronic respiratory infections, are common in stray cats, but can make it very difficult for them to eat.
“They eat like they haven’t eaten in months once we take that out,” she said.
After examining the cat, Leonhardt told King it was relatively young, only about a year and a half, but the most shocking revelation she made was that it wasn’t the kittens’ mother after all.
It wasn’t even female.
“When I found out it was male, I was blown away,” King said. “Just by the way he seemed so protective and nurturing, I assumed it was the mother.”
Landherr added, “I was amazed at how they followed him around, and that played into our belief that this was a mother cat and these were the kittens.”
King said she thinks the cat had been living in the wooded area near the Dumpster, but when it came upon the abandoned kittens, it assumed a motherly role. Leonhardt said it’s hard to tell if the cat adopted the kittens or if the kittens just started following it around, but either way, it appears he was helping them find food.
“This cat is such a hero,” King said. “When these little guys needed help he made himself available, but little did he know that by helping them, his own life would be saved.”
Although the kittens have already found homes, the cat, which King dubbed “Trouper,” still has not. The domestic short hair, whose coloring is similar to a Russian blue, has since been neutered, treated with antibiotics and tested negative for feline AIDS and leukemia. He is ready to be adopted, according to Leonhardt.
“We kept him overnight, and by the next morning, he was really, really affectionate,” she said. “He’s going to be a really nice cat.”
King is willing to drive anywhere in Long Island or New York City to place Trouper in a good home. Potential adopters can contact her at 516-448-0560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Whoever dumped those kittens did a horrible thing, but this cat came and did something heroic,” she said. “He deserves a home.”