Fighting spirit helps kitten come back from the brink

Rumi the kitten being held in someone's arms
Rumi was in rough shape and was the weight of a deck of cards when she came to Best Friends. She’s still tiny, but mighty — and mighty healthy, too.
By Nicole Hamilton

Rumi is a nine-month-old cat who today weighs in at about three pounds. That’s impressive, considering that when she came to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah from a shelter, she weighed about 300 grams, roughly the same as a deck of cards.

When the veterinary team examined Rumi, they discovered she had a dangerously low temperature (92 degrees Fahrenheit). Her right eye was swollen shut, and she had an upper respiratory infection so severe that the team began tube feeding her because she was too congested to nurse from her mom. To help get her temperature up to normal, Rumi was placed in an incubator.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Rumi’s young life was in danger, even before it had a chance to unfold. But Rumi had other plans. Every day that she spent at Best Friends she got a little stronger. Soon, it became clear that a wonderful life beyond Best Friends was possible for the tiny but mighty kitten.

A team determined to help kitten survive

Once Rumi no longer required an incubator and the veterinary team was confident that her condition was stable, she went to stay with Judy Steiger. Judy is a longtime foster volunteer with Best Friends who has years of experience caring for kittens with medical needs. In Rumi’s case, she still needed to be tube fed, weighed every few hours, and kept warm.

Every now and then as Judy cared for Rumi, she could see the kitten’s tenacious nature peeking through. “She’s definitely had a fighter spirit and strong will to live,” says Judy.

[Joining forces to save a newborn kitten]

Rumi stayed with Judy for six days — enough time to begin her healing journey in a home. Judy brought Rumi to the lifesaving center often for checkups from the veterinary team. Then, when she was ready to pass the baton to another experienced caregiver so she could catch up on some much-needed sleep, she let the team at Best Friends know.

Enter Jeri Broadhead. Jeri hadn’t just been keeping track of Rumi’s progress, but as Best Friends veterinary supervisor, she’d played a key role in helping Rumi when she first arrived at Best Friends. Jeri also had regular conversations with Judy about Rumi, whether it was to offer medical advice or moral support.

Jeri had been rooting for Rumi from a distance since day one. Now, she was ready to roll up her sleeves and champion for the kitten closer to home — or, more specifically, from her home.

Two paw steps forward, one back

Jeri continued to feed Rumi through a feeding tube for the first couple weeks that she fostered her. And while the method was necessary to help Rumi get healthier and stronger, it was no easy feat.

“You’ve got to go slow, or you risk injury,” explains Jeri about the tube-feeding process that typically involves delivering nutrients (essentially a formula that’s as close to a mom cat’s milk as possible) directly to the kitten’s stomach. “As you feed, you have to gently stabilize their body, monitor breathing, and watch for aspiration.”

[Fearless kitten meets life’s challenges head-on]

As soon as Rumi started showing interest in wet cat food, Jeri began the transition from tube feeding the tiny (but growing) kitten to food. Rumi’s enthusiasm for eating helped tenfold. “She’s not a fan of restraint,” says Jeri.

Then, after a few weeks at Jeri’s place, Rumi developed some belly issues. Jeri brought her to Best Friends, where Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Megan McCarthy examined her and determined Rumi had developed a prolapse. Repairing it would require emergency surgery.

“Our team monitored her well, and she recovered great,” says Megan. "She woke right up after the procedure and was being as feisty as ever. This fixed the issue, and the prolapse never recurred.”

Kitten is poetry in motion

After Rumi recovered from her surgery, Jeri brought her back home — and this time, she had a feeling Rumi was there to stay. Jeri had gotten used to life with Rumi, who somehow managed to command every room she entered despite not even weighing a pound. Tiny but mighty, indeed. She’s sassy and fearless, too, adds Jeri.

After a little time watching Rumi deftly climb the palms in her house and dole out love to Jeri’s cats and dogs in equal doses, she decided to adopt her. 

Sometimes, Jeri brings Rumi to the lifesaving center, where she plays and relaxes in her crate that Jeri has designed to look like a jungle. On the days that Rumi is at the center, Judy makes sure to pay her a visit if she’s around. “I often ask Jeri for updates and photos when I run into her at Best Friends, too,” says Judy. “Rumi has a wonderful home now.”

Today, Rumi is a lot like her namesake, whose simple poetry is known for its powerful lessons. “When you watch an animal like Rumi recover, you learn that change doesn’t always happen immediately,” says Jeri. “But sometimes, if you take a breath and stay hopeful, you learn that anything is possible.”

A little extra time for a whole lot of love

Some pets like Rumi may need some extra care, but just give them a chance and they will bring a whole lot of joy to your life, too.

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