A New York feline fairy tale

Cinderella the cat in an enclosed cat bed
Cinderella was down on her luck when she came to Best Friends, but today she’s living a life fit for a princess.
By Nicole Hamilton

There’s a cat in Massachusetts who’s living a real-life rags-to-riches story, right down to her name: Cinderella. The tiny, nine-year-old cat was down on her luck when she came to Best Friends. Her teeth were in rough shape, and she had an eye condition that was causing her discomfort.

No wave of a magic wand or fairy godmother was going to help Cinderella. What she needed was modern medicine, rest, and a lot of care and attention from the veterinary team at Best Friends in New York. They were determined to prepare Cinderella for her next and most magnificent chapter of all: the one where she finds true love with someone determined to help her live happily ever after.

Support for a senior cat

Dr. Michelle Lugones, Best Friends veterinarian in New York City, remembers meeting Cinderella when she first arrived. “She was frail, and her eyes were uncomfortable, so she was squinting and reluctant to walk,” she says. It turned out that Cinderella was in the early stages of kidney disease. And she had chronic inflammation of the eye, known as uveitis, as well as arthritis.

The veterinary team prescribed Cinderella a special diet to help slow down the progression of her kidney disease. Her eyes were treated with special drops. Joint supplements helped her arthritis, as did a litter box with low sides that she could easily get in and out of.

Once Cinderella’s veterinary routine was established, she started to feel better and showed it by showering the team with affection and befriending other cats. “As [Cinderella] improved, she stopped squinting and became more active,” Michelle says. “We finally got to see her beautiful blue eyes.”

[Epic trip home for a senior cat with kidney disease]

The only thing she still needed was a home. But she didn’t need a prince to swoop in off the subway to SoHo to adopt her before the stroke of midnight. All she needed was one person who could see her beauty, fall in love with her story, and adopt her. Sure, it might take a little time for that someone to come along, but in the fairy tale, Cinderella didn’t find true love right away either.

In the meantime, the team set up a room at the lifesaving center just for her and filled it with beds and toys. Because she loves to be groomed, they got her a special “Cinderella brush,” as well as a stuffed unicorn that became her favorite toy.

Inspired by cats with special needs to adopt more

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Chris Vitale wanted to adopt a cat to join her other two cats, Pretty Boy and Big Boy, who both have kidney disease. Over the years, Chris has had other cats with kidney disease, too. “I’ve learned from them,” she says. “Now I see adopting cats with the same challenges as a way to honor their legacy.”

Chris, a longtime supporter of Best Friends, once adopted a cat named Prince from the Sanctuary. When she remembered that Best Friends has a lifesaving center in New York City, about four hours away from where she lives, she thought: Why not adopt a cat from Best Friends again?

She saw Cinderella’s photo, read her story, and wanted to meet her. She wasn’t fazed by the fact that Cinderella would need daily medication, a special diet for the rest of her life, or an extra checkup with the veterinarian every year.

So she arranged with the Best Friends team to meet Cinderella in person at the lifesaving center. Then, a couple of days later, she and her partner, Ed, hopped in the car and made the long drive (192 miles to be exact) to the Big Apple.

A cat gets her castle

Cinderella greeted Chris and Ed with rubs against their legs and some purrs. “She wasn’t super shy. And she had a very cute face,” Chris says. Michelle went over Cinderella’s medical history with them, explaining the daily routine required for her to stay healthy, and answered their questions.

“I truly enjoy talking about our amazing animals and meeting potential adopters,” says Michelle. “Sometimes a simple conversation to answer someone’s questions about a medical condition can help them decide to adopt, which means we're able to take in another animal and find a home for them, too.”

[8 reasons to adopt a senior pet]

After talking to Michelle about Cinderella, Chris was confident she could give Cinderella a home where she could thrive. So she got the car ready for the big trip back to Massachusetts, complete with calming pheromone spray, spa music, and Cinderella’s beloved unicorn toy.

Once they were out of the city, Chris pulled over and Ed sat next to Cinderella’s cat carrier for the rest of the ride home. “She settled in and was great,” says Chris.

Things were just as easy when Cinderella arrived in Massachusetts. Chris has a room set up in her house that she calls the “cat apartment.” That’s where Cinderella stayed at first, while she sniffed the two cats from behind the door. A couple of weeks later, when Chris opened the door to let Cinderella meet the two cats, she went right up to Pretty Boy. “Kindred souls” is how Chris describes the relationship between Pretty Boy and Cinderella now. She’s getting a little closer to Big Boy every day, too.

Photo courtesy of Christine Vitale

Fearless feline princess

As for caring for a nine-year-old cat with some ongoing health issues, Chris will tell you there’s nothing to it. “It’s actually not a lot of work,” she says, breaking down the daily routine she follows to keep Cinderella feeling her best. “She’s on a special food for her kidney issues, but that’s it. She takes medicine for her arthritis, and I put a bowl of food down before I give her eye drops twice a day. Sometimes you get it in, other days not. But that’s OK.”

Because Cinderella doesn’t see well anymore, she often walks the perimeter of a room to figure it out. But that doesn’t stop her one bit. As soon as she gets the lay of the land, so to speak, she’s fearless. “She’ll go where she wants,” says Chris. “For a little cat, she’s not afraid at all.”

For all of the care and love that Chris gives Cinderella, she’s handsomely rewarded in cuddles, purrs and the occasional headbutt when she wants attention. Today, she’s all settled in and a part of the family. There’s just one thing: Her name isn’t Cinderella anymore. Not exactly. “She’s Princess Cinderella now,” says Chris. “We knew from the minute we saw her that that’s what she is. She’s a princess.”

Photo courtesy of Christine Vitale

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