When a cat is neglected: Sinbad's story
The story of Sinbad spread across the internet a few months ago. He was a cat so neglected that he dragged around nearly his own body weight in matted, stinking Persian fur. It looked as though he was dragging around a huge, clotted rug behind him.
But he was rescued.
The fur was cut away and Sinbad got the attention he needed. He got a foster home that turned out to be his forever home. In the care of someone who could look after him properly – in fact, an employee of the US animal shelter where he'd been brought – he began to thrive.
Sinbad's was one of those uplifting rescue stories you often see on the internet, and usually those stories end right there, on the word "thrive". That's the point when we feel we can leave the pet's story, confident that a safe, healthy life is assured for it.
But with Sinbad, I've continued to follow the story. Because of course the story doesn't end after a four-minute YouTube video, just as it didn't begin at the moment of his rescue.
So four months after Sinbad's story went viral, I asked Elliott Serrano, the man who first fostered and then adopted Sinbad, how their life is going.
"All things considered, Sinbad is in very good shape," Elliott says. Sinbad, he says, regained strength in his weakened hindquarters fairly quickly, without the need for therapy. His appetite was fine – with the right food. Blood tests came back normal.
"If you weren't aware of his past, you'd think that Sinbad was just an average 8 year-old Persian cat. Of course we all know better!"
Elliott says he and Sinbad seemed to bond naturally from the start – "there was a certain intangible to him that drew me".
"Everyone who knows me personally says that Sinbad and I were meant for each other."
If anything is a challenge, it's taking care of Sinbad's coat. "It does mat rather quickly, so I find myself spending a lot of our 'cuddle time' working on his mats and brushing him. He's very tolerant for a stretch, but then he just gets tired of it. When grooming time is over, oh it's OVER!"
Sinbad is a sweet and social cat, he says. "I've had him at the office where he just settles into his cat bed and pays no mind to all the people who come and go. He's been around the office cats and gets along with them. He's very wary of dogs, though."
Sinbad's an indoor cat – Elliott doesn't want to lose him – and likes to wander the house and check out any open wardrobes. He's not one for too many toys, preferring to bat about the loose twist-tie from a bag of bread, or even the laces on a pair of old boots.
"There was a time when he stayed in bed with me all night, but now he'll get up and wander around the house in the dark. I wonder what adventures he's getting into."
All this – the cuddles, the caring, the safety – is so far from that suffering little cat dragging around that dreadful mass of fur. When we see the photos, we wonder how on earth it happened.
Some of us feel a natural outrage, an utter bafflement about how such a thing can happen.
But in a case like Sinbad's, I feel something different – behind Sinbad's tragedy probably lies a human tragedy of some kind.
Sinbad was the pet of an elderly man in poor mental health. That man, too, was neglected.
Elliott says there are times when he looks at those first photos of the neglected Sinbad and is filled with sorrow. "Those first few days, we were all taken in by this little creature that kept reaching out for love despite all the neglect he'd known in his life. And it all seemed to happen so needlessly.
"But my experience in animal welfare, and especially in community outreach, has taught me that many cases of animal neglect can't be pinned on just one person. That when an animal ends up in the condition that Sinbad experienced, it's the failure of an entire community."
As far as Elliott knows, Sinbad's previous owner is getting the help he needs. "Beyond that, I've kept a distance from Sinbad's previous life."
What about those emotions we might feel when we learn of a neglected pet – the anger, the judgment?
"I think that we should temper those emotions, especially when the elderly are involved. I look at Sinbad's case and consider that he was a barometer for how long his owner went ignored and/or neglected. If he had friends, family, or even an in-home caretaker, none of this would have ever happened.
"We should always consider the least among us, regardless of the number of legs they have."