THE WASHINGTON POST – Patches, a six-year-old domestic short-haired cat, arrived at the Richmond Animal Care and Control shelter earlier this month, surrendered by his owner. Staff was stunned by his enormous size.
“We thought we had seen big cats before, but he was definitely the biggest that we’ve ever seen,” said an Outreach Coordinator at the shelter Robin Young explaining that the standard weight for a domestic short-haired cat is about 15 pounds.
“He started out in our cat room with our larger cat cages, but he was so big that he barely had room to move around,” Young said. “So, he stayed in my office with me.”
Shelter staff shared Patches’ story on social media on April 19, along with a photo that features his balloon-like belly, hoping to get him adopted quickly. Animals that require extra attention and care are sometimes harder to place, but Young soon learned that there was something about Patches that touched people.
“I started receiving immediate e-mails from people wanting to adopt him,” Young said.
That same day, Kay Ford – who does not live far from the shelter – received a text from her daughter: “This is your moment.”
The text was accompanied by the Facebook post, which described Patches as having a “gloriously gluttonous body.”
Ford knew her daughter was right. Patches was perfect for her.
“I would love to help that cat out,” Ford, a retired business owner in Richmond, recalled thinking to herself. “I am the kind of cat parent that would do what I needed to do.”
She had wanted to adopt another overweight cat from Pennsylvania three years ago, but she didn’t act fast enough. Her daughter remembered the near-adoption, so she thought of Ford when she came across the post about Patches.
“I’ve had cats all my life,” said Ford, who has two-year-old rescue cat named Wellesley, as well as a dog, a 13-year-old Yorkie named Bella. “It just seemed like the right thing.”
The shelter’s Facebook post was already inundated with hundreds of comments and shares, so Ford knew she needed to move quickly. She wrote an e-mail to staff at the shelter, detailing why she would be the perfect pet parent for Patches.
“I am very flexible, retired, home a lot, and I’m willing to dedicate the time and resources to help Patches achieve the goal that you all set,” Ford wrote.
“Patches actually could be a wonderful inspiration for me. Perhaps we can do the weight-loss journey together,” she continued. “I’m not unhealthily overweight, but I gained 20 pounds over the pandemic that I would love to shed.”
Young, who was overwhelmed with responses to the Facebook post, said Ford’s sweet e-mail stood out among the rest.
“As cute as Patches is, in the end, we wanted an adopter that was going to change his life for the better, and take care of his health,” Young said.
A veterinarian at the shelter ran tests and blood-work to check for any underlying issues, such as a thyroid problem or diabetes, that might explain the cat’s abnormal weight. Everything came back normal.
The vet’s conclusion: “He needs to go on a weight loss plan and exercise plan,” Young said.
After sifting through e-mails from prospective adopters, staff replied to Ford.
“We thought that she would be the best fit,” Young said, adding that she asked Ford if she was available for a meet-and-greet later that day.
She send back an immediate “yes,” and was excited to meet him. Still, she was not prepared for Patches’ girth and greatness.
“I regret so much that I had not had the presence of mind to have my camera open and take a picture of him as I walked around the corner, because it was awe-inspiring,” Ford said. “He was on his side and his teeny, little legs were sticking up, and you saw his big stomach.”
“He is so big,” she continued. “Pictures really don’t do it justice.”
She felt a connection right away.
“I immediately sat down, and he just started purring,” Ford said. “He’s the sweetest thing.”
After a discussion with the vet about Patches’s unique needs and weight-loss regimen, Ford signed the paperwork and made the adoption official. She brought Patches home that afternoon.
“I can see in his eyes that there is a vibrant, wonderful, amazing character in there,” Ford said. “I cannot wait for him to be able to fully shine when he’s dropped some of the pounds.”
Ford booked an appointment with her vet to come up with a more comprehensive health plan for Patches, which could include prescription food, she said. For the time being, he is continuing the special diet he was put on at the shelter, and Ford encourages him to exercise as much as possible by waiving string toys in front of him.
“He is so heavy right now that anything more than just walking is difficult,” Ford said, adding that she is “taking it slow” to prevent any injuries.
As far as his weight loss goes, though, “I’m taking this incredibly seriously,” she said. “This is just the beginning. I cannot wait to see his transformation.”
Ford is also looking forward to her own transformation. She meant what she said in her e-mail to the shelter about her personal weight loss ambitions.
“If ever there was a time to do it, now is the time,” said Ford, who created a Facebook page for Patches, to track his weight loss progress. In the first few days, the page already has more than 8,000 followers.
Ford wrote that she’s glad people will be with Patches on his journey “from Loveable Honkin’ Chonk to Fit and Fabulous Feline,” and also requested from her followers, “if you’re going to post please be nice.”
It turns out, Ford isn’t the only one who is motivated by Patches. Several people commented on the Facebook page, saying things like “we’re in this together” and “I’m going to join you Patches!”
“So many people seem to find this as inspiration for their own process,” Ford said.
“My 23-pound girl Greta Mae and I will be cheering you on, Patches!” one person commented, sharing a photo of their cat. “Happy to follow your journey! We are trying here too.”
Ford hopes Patches’s story underscores “the power of adoption” – both for animals in need of a home, and their humans.
“What else in the world is out there that gives you the unconditional love of a pet?” said Ford.