Three-legged cat is full of surprises

Dolly Parton the cat lying on a couch behind Scott
Dolly Parton’s new family was prepared to make their home accessible to her, and then she showed them how much she could do.
By Sarah Thornton

It’s a tale as old as time. Scott Teigen and Maree Stewart hadn’t come to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary looking for a new pet. They’d made the trip across the country from their home in Wisconsin for Scott’s aunt’s 50th birthday; she and her husband volunteered at the Sanctuary regularly and wanted to celebrate the milestone year in the best way possible: surrounded by adorable animals. So the family signed up for various volunteer shifts and split up across the canyon to the different animal areas.

Then, they set up some sleepovers. While Scott’s aunt and uncle brought a dog back to the on-property cottage where they were staying, he and Maree decided to host a feline friend at theirs. And that’s when the love story started.

A most convincing guest

A pretty, long-haired cat named Dolly Parton had arrived at the Sanctuary just a few months before with a badly broken leg from what was believed to be an unfortunate run-in with a dog. While she certainly couldn’t have been feeling her best, her spirits were bright, she was full of purrs, and she was always happy to lean into a good ear scratch — or call out for attention from nearby veterinary staff when she felt she wasn’t getting enough. And after surgery to remove her injured leg, things only got better for the fluffy feline.

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Once Dolly had recovered from surgery, she moved into Cat World proper. She was a sweet, low-key kitty, just as content to do her own thing and snooze in the sunlight on the catio as she was to snuggle up against a caregiver or volunteer. In comparison to her more outgoing roommates, she seemed almost like a demure little lap cat — as sweet and endearing as she was calm and collected.

Scott had met her during his volunteer shift, so when he saw her name on the list of cats who could go on sleepovers, he decided she’d be the perfect guest.

“At the time,” he explains, “we had two cats — Jade and Annie, who we’d adopted at the same time almost 12 years ago — two dogs, and two horses. … We were not anticipating adopting another animal, even going to Best Friends with all the temptation in the world.”

However, as Dolly explored the cottage and played with their feet through the blankets, Scott and Maree found themselves wondering: did they want to bring home another cat? They didn’t want to interrupt their senior cats’ quiet, peaceful life with a young newcomer; the two cats were very close and content with things as they were. But they were both in their late teens, and Scott and Maree worried what would happen if one passed away, leaving their friend behind.

As they talked, the conversation turned to Dolly’s missing leg — what sort of extra care she might need and how they could make their home comfortable for her. “And we decided honestly, with minimal work, we could make our house pretty accessible,” Scott says. “At that point, we had no idea just how active and bouncy she was.”

The second night, Maree and Scott had Dolly back for another sleepover. If they were really thinking about adopting her, they wanted to spend more time to get to know her before the final decision. And after a few more days of mulling it over, on their fifth and final day at the Sanctuary, the couple met up with adoption staff and made it official. Dolly was going home with them to Wisconsin.

Right at home and part of the family

Dolly made herself at home right away. She spent her first day and a half in Scott’s office, sniffing at the other cats under the door. And the moment the door was opened, she was ready to join the family — surprising her family by hopping right over the gate they’d set up in the doorway.

Dolly was full of surprises, it turned out. While Maree and Scott had been expecting to start scheduled mealtimes, thinking they would need to hoist Dolly up onto the counter where the cat food was kept out of the way of hungry pups, she quickly proved she didn’t need any kind of help. There was already a step stool leading to a bar stool leading to the counter for the senior cats, and Dolly bounced up the platforms as though she was spring-loaded.

Maree says, with a laugh, “She loves chaos. She’s super playful; she’s very social. She’s not worried about different people coming to the house, and being in a new environment doesn’t scare her.”

Dolly wanted to play with the cats and showed no fear toward the dogs, Chloe and Pippa, even joining them in the kitchen at Maree’s feet to wait for handouts. She fit in perfectly and became known affectionately as “Three Cat,” for both her paws and her status as the third feline family member.

And when, sadly, Annie crossed the rainbow bridge not long after Dolly’s arrival, the young cat kept Jade company just as they’d hoped, drawing him back into the sort of wild play he’d long since left behind for extended afternoon naps. “He’s gotten into it,” says Maree. “It took a little while, but now he freaks out playing with her.”

Dolly kept everyone smiling with her special brand of chaos. But there was still one more silly surprise she had in store for them.

Dolly Parton’s special screen time

“She loves to play, and she loves anything that moves,” Maree explains. “But we can’t really have a ton of toys for her out all the time because of the dogs.”

So, Maree says, one day she suggested Scott pull up a video of swimming fish on his phone — and Dolly was riveted. She was glued to the screen, eyes wide and ears straight ahead.

“It started with a little fish swimming around, and I had no idea there was this entire cottage industry of people uploading 10-hour videos of live shots of bird feeders,” says Scott. “We found she really likes the David Attenborough-narrated nature documentaries.” (And, Maree adds, the rest of the family at least get something out of those, too.)

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Dolly’s screen time became a daily routine, and soon they graduated from the phone to the living room TV. Scott and Maree even scooted their ottoman up in front of the screen, so Dolly can watch in style. And when she hears them turning on the TV, she rushes from wherever she is in the house to plop down in her spot, staring back at them expectantly until they turn on “her” shows.

“There was one (show) about tigers,” Scott recalls. “And she managed to get behind the entertainment center, and just as the tiger emerged from the brush and started chasing something, she plowed through two pictures and jumped out. Channeled her roots.”

Maree and Scott may not have been intending to bring home a cat when they went to the Sanctuary, but everyone involved seems pretty pleased that they did — especially little miss Dolly Parton, herself. And they’re hoping to come back to the Sanctuary again soon, though this time they say they’re not going to be adopting. Probably.

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