Like most of you, I’ve been following the story of Meow, the immensely obese cat who found himself in the care of a shelter in Santa Fe, N.M., after his elderly owner could no longer take care of him.
Of course, with any story about super-obese cats come the demeaning jokes and blame-filled, judgmental comments from people who don’t know the whole story. So when I had the opportunity to interview Marie Stewart, the daughter of the woman who owned Meow, I jumped at the chance.
The first thing I found out is that most of the stories don’t even have the cat’s age correct. Marie told me she met Meow when she visited her mother and sister in 2007. That’s right: Meow is 5, not 2.
On the outskirts of Roswell, N.M., where her mother lived, people often dumped unwanted cats and dogs. And that’s how Meow and Marie’s mother met — she rescued the cat after someone had discarded him like trash, and brought him home to live with her two rescued dogs.
Even back then, he was a big cat. “He looked like he was four to six months old,” she said. But when Marie’s mother and sister took him to the vet for his shots, the vet checked his teeth and shocked everyone with the announcement that this tubby little kitten was only 7 or 8 weeks old.
Six months later, Meow developed a urinary tract infection, so it was back to the vet, who put him on a diet of special urinary tract health cat food. “That has been his diet ever since — not hot dogs and junk food,” Marie said.
Of course, it doesn’t matter what kind of food you feed your cat if you feed him mountains of the stuff, so I asked about mealtimes: Was he free-fed or did he get portions doled out?
“They would feed him half a cup of that dry food, and that’s what he ate,” Marie said. “He didn’t seem to want anything else. A lot of the time he wouldn’t eat even that half a cup.”
Marie’s sister thought the well water may have contributed to Meow’s urinary tract problem — so from then on, bottled water was all he drank.
When Marie came to Roswell for a visit in 2009, she was surprised and concerned about how large Meow had gotten. She asked her sister if Meow had seen a vet. Her sister said yes: they too had been concerned that the cat had diabetes or a thyroid problem. Bloodwork showed nothing out of the ordinary, Marie’s sister said — and the vet said she guessed Meow was just a big kitty.
“He was on that urinary brand food, but I don’t think that came up,” Marie said. “I kind of feel like she should have said, ‘What are you feeding him?’ and that maybe my mom and sister could have been more assertive.”
But even though Meow was a big dude, he could be pretty spry when he wanted to be. The cat was best buddies with Red, the family’s big “Scooby Doo dog,” and they spent a lot of time in the yard frolicking and chasing each other. One day during that 2009 visit, Marie was sitting on the porch, watching Meow, when Red decided he wanted to play. “Imagine my amazement when I saw Meow dart after the dog. I didn’t know he could move that fast!” Not only that but “Meow caught his share of mice and proudly dropped them at Mom and Sissy’s feet.”
When Marie came back the next year, Meow was close to his current weight. Marie’s mother had moved into her sister’s home, and her sister became her full-time caretaker.
Meow adapted pretty well to the move, and he had become her mother’s constant companion. “When she was in the bedroom he was with her; when she was in the living room he was with her — he was always somewhere he could see her,” Marie said. “He even climbed into her bed (by way of a footstool) and sat on her feet, which she loved because her feet were always cold.”
Then, just six weeks ago, the family got terrible news: Marie’s sister had Stage IV lung cancer. Untreatable. The only option was palliative care. Marie rushed down to New Mexico to help take care of all the final details and arrange for her mother’s care — and the care of the animals.
“My niece was taking Cindy the poodle, and I wept as I looked at Meow and Red. Fifteen-year-old Red was so protective, I was afraid he may not be adoptable. And I looked at that beautiful cat, Meow, all 39 pounds of him. He purred as I petted him and looked at me as though he understood. But I didn’t understand — why?”
Marie’s sister died at 5:30 a.m. on April 21. And that’s when Meow’s story took its latest turn.
Meow was first taken to a shelter in Roswell, but that small shelter didn’t have the resources to meet Meow’s special needs. The staff was concerned about Meow’s health, so they called the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society, which took the cat into their care.
“They’ve reassured me that he’s healthy; he’s just fat,” Marie said. “They did bloodwork and he doesn’t have diabetes or any of those other diseases.”
Right now, Meow is living in a foster home where he’s on a weight loss program consisting of a diet of low-carbohydrate, high-protein food and as much exercise as he can tolerate. You can keep tabs on Meow’s progress at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s Facebook page.
As of Saturday, Meow’s weight was down to 35.7 pounds.
“He was just a godsend,” Marie told me. “He was meant to be out there and touch people’s lives. People are saying to me, ‘I used to look at fat people and make remarks, but now I understand.'”
Marie has set up an e-mail address for people who are interested in talking to her about Meow. “I’d love to hear from people around the world who are following this story and have them send me articles from their local newspapers so I may make a scrapbook for my mother and family.” If you’d like to be in touch, you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
“Their loving support will help my mother find happiness in her last years to know what an impact one little chubby stray kitty has had on people around the world.”
So now you know: Meow was not an abused, neglected and deliberately overfed cat. He was cared for by two women who loved him deeply and who would have done anything they could to make Meow’s life better. They may not have known everything that some of us “cat nerds” do about diet, nutrition, or working with a vet, but that doesn’t make them bad people.
They tried. They gave this unwanted cat a home where he was loved and cared for, where he got to enjoy dog friends as well as human friends. That’s a hell of a lot more than he’d have gotten if he’d been forced to fend for himself in the Roswell desert.
Please exercise some compassion and try to understand this family’s situation. They deserve it — and so does Meow.