A most memorable cat named Banjo

Nancy Stewart and Juve Vique adopting Banjo the cat, who is wearing his hat
Adopting one cat with FIV leads to another for an L.A. couple, and now Banjo is living the life of his dreams.
By Diane Barber

Banjo was a legend the moment he arrived at Best Friends in Los Angeles. Cowboy hat, bandana, memorable name, super sweet with a touch of swagger: The nine-year-old orange tabby is the kind of cat who deserves his own theme song. One look at him and you can tell he’s a true character with a lifetime of stories under his belt.

As with many animals in shelters, Banjo’s previous history is largely a mystery. What is known dates back only a few months to November of 2021, when he was in the care of Animal Friends of the Valleys (AFV), a shelter located 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles. He was adopted from the shelter only to be returned a short time later after testing positive for FIV, a manageable condition, but one that reduces his ability to fight off illness.

David Yocom, senior coordinator of shelter partnerships at Best Friends in Los Angeles, met Banjo a few weeks after he was returned to the shelter. David made the three-hour roundtrip to escort Banjo and a handful of other cats (many with medical issues) to Best Friends in L.A. “He was a staff favorite at AFV. They absolutely adored him there,” says David.

[Adopter looks beyond cat’s FIV status and gives him a home]

As the cats were loaded up for the journey, the AFV staff packed up a cat-sized cowboy hat and bandana to send along with Banjo. The western get-up was a gift from his caregivers and somehow the look just worked for him. Even the photo on his AFV kennel card depicted him in the adorable outfit. It had become part of his image.

Back in the saddle in foster care

Cowboy persona aside, there was no doubt that life had taken a toll on the scruffy cat and he was in need of a reset. Upon arrival at Best Friends, Banjo underwent a medical evaluation and was diagnosed with dental disease that required several tooth extractions. He also had an upper respiratory infection requiring treatment. Once the dental procedure was complete and a treatment plan was in place, Banjo, his hat, bandana and medications were moved into foster care with Jillian Ford and Nick Weiss so he could recover and relax.

Banjo took to the move like a champ. Instantly comfortable in his foster home, he assumed the role of sheriff and spent his days keeping an eye on Daisy (the neighborhood cat) from a perch in the window and coming downstairs each day like clockwork at 4 p.m. to politely demand dinner from his hosts.

[The 20-pound cat with 1,000 nicknames]

“He was the friendliest cat we’ve ever fostered,” says Jillian, “He also seemed like he had a lot of wisdom to share. I’d look at him and think ‘What have you seen?’ I could just sense he had a lot going on.”

Banjo spent three months in Jillian and Nick’s care. During that time, they administered medications, doled out cuddles and shuttled their houseguest to vet checkups. In late April, a healthier and well-rested Banjo returned to Best Friends.

Giddy up!

With Banjo back in the building and on top of his game, the staff wasted no time getting pictures of him in full western regalia. Shortly thereafter, a photo of Banjo (the cowboy cat) made an appearance on Facebook and caught the attention of a couple with a newfound passion for helping senior cats.

Nancy Stewart and Juve Vique had just lost their cat, Ordell, to an aggressive cancer. Like Banjo, Ordell was also nine years old and had FIV. The couple had adopted him from Best Friends in January after falling in love with his photo. A vet visit a month later confirmed that cancer had taken hold and Ordell was likely nearing the end of his life.

Nancy and Juve then poured themselves into making the most of Ordell’s remaining days. He was with them constantly. They took him on road trips to San Francisco and Anaheim, and they made sure he was showered with all the love and affection they had to give. As Juve put it, “He was spoiled rotten.”

One Saturday in May, Nancy and Juve had plans to take Ordell to the beach. He had proven to be a go-with-it guy, the perfect travel cat, and they knew he would enjoy the sights and sounds of the shore. As it turned out, though, cancer had other plans and Nancy and Juve said goodbye to their sweet companion the very next day.

Although he was with them for only a matter of months, Ordell taught Nancy and Juve a lot about themselves and their ability to impact the lives of animals in need. Losing Ordell was heartbreaking, but the couple was filled with gratitude that he had joined the family when he needed them most. “He needed us and he’s just what we needed at that time, too,” says Juve. “He got it all, and he gave us so much more in return.”

It might have been coincidence and it might have been fate. But Juve posted a tribute to Ordell on Facebook the very same day Banjo’s cowboy photo appeared online. Just as with Ordell, one look at Banjo told Nancy and Juve that he was destined to become part of their family. His age didn’t matter. The fact that he had FIV didn’t matter. All that mattered was that, in the midst of their grief, they found their calling and were committed to loving Banjo with all their hearts for the rest of his days.

Banjo hangs his hat in his new home

Nancy and Juve adopted Banjo eight days after saying goodbye to Ordell, and true to form, Banjo left the building the same way he came in, dressed in his hat and bandana, fired up and ready to take on the world.

Since the adoption, it’s safe to say that Banjo’s new life with his new family is the best he’s ever known. Nancy reports that he loves sitting on the balcony watching the neighbors go by. He loves intimidating the neighborhood dogs who dare get too close (once a sheriff, always a sheriff). He loves climbing the stairs and chasing his tail until he runs out of gas, because he’s certain he’ll catch it someday. Most of all, he loves waking up Nancy and Juve early on weekends for snuggles and family breakfast. Life is good for all involved.

[Adopted cat lands a job and lives a life worthy of a storybook ending]

Nancy and Juve didn’t know it at the time, but in a lot of ways Ordell paved the way for Banjo. The couple’s experience with him instilled in them a sense of purpose that continues to grow in his absence and Banjo is living proof of that.

“We didn’t realize how much of an impact he was going to have on us,” says Juve. “He left a spot in our life that can’t be filled, but I tell you, Banjo is doing a great job.” And Nancy says, “He’s definitely helped us through this hard time. Having Banjo in our life is so fulfilling. I feel very content in the knowledge that although our hearts may hurt at some point, knowing Banjo is going to have the best makes it all worth it.”

Ordell, the cat who set it all in motion, would be proud. Giddy up.

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