Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lion King and the Circle of Love

Today was literally picture and climate perfect. Blue skies, sunshine, wafty clouds, 80 degrees and dry.  But today, the world ended....

 Lion King, Summer 2011
Notice his proximity and how his right paw curls in--that's the sign of happy cat

... for one of our Riverfront Cats.  Lion King crossed the rainbow bridge. This day came too soon.

Lion King was an outdoor community cat near the Miami River in downtown Miami cared for by a small team of volunteers.  He was visibly losing weight drastically. Volunteers observed that he flinched in pain at the first bite of food, even moist food. He was starving.  After much effort, volunteers finally caught him and rushed him to the vet. Lion King was treated for gum infection and had two teeth extracted and was released outside days later. But the FIV won the war. His FIV (Feline AIDS) was advanced and this prevented him from fighting the infection. Living outdoors would expedite his dying days. He was withering away. Lion King would die of starvation--a slow painful death. That's when we knew the time had come.

At the vet's office, I cradled Lion King in a swath of white towels. He  looked like an angel, his lackluster gold fur and big round green eyes locked with mine. He didn't flinch, no hissing, no writhing. He looked at me with ease. He trusted me. The tears rushed down my face. The pain and grief crushing my spirit.

Dr. Wilber reassured me, "he knew to trust you.".  Little did she know the irony.  The dagger piercing my heart.  Lion King was the very first cat and first feral cat I ever trapped in learning about TNR and TNRM in 2009.  He was also the first Riverfront Cat I had to put to sleep. He was feral in every sense.  I recalled the first week I saw him, roaming around the construction trailers on the neighboring empty lot and how he stayed at a distance with a scowl, and would not eat his bowl of food until I was a measurable distance away.  In my mind, I called him "Mr. Meanie" but never dared to mouth those words for fear of it coming true.

Over the years, he inched closer to volunteers, waiting for the dispensing of food. In another year, a shocking advancement. Lion King, a feral cat,  gave nose kisses to my dog Ma Cherie (a Maltese).   I couldn't believe my eyes. You see Ma Cherie was accustomed to cats, scared and docile cats. She knew to wait for them to approach her.   Clearly Lion King appreciated a four-legged animal that didn't pounce, hiss, attack or scratch. Then in 2012, one day while talking to another volunteer outdoors, Lion King appeared and started rubbing against our legs! These were the baby steps that every parent gushes over and wishes they had a photo or video camera to record the moment.  Would he repeat the gesture? Yes. Then eventually he allowed us to pet him on the top of his head and down his back. Here are photos last October for National Feral Cat Day!

Christine feeding Lion King (in costume for National Feral Cat Day)

Community cats become outdoor pets.  

Each with their unique habits and personality.

You can't help but love each and every one.

No matter if they hiss, no matter if they do not let us touch or pet them, volunteers read cat body language.  When a community cat starts kneading or rubbing their chin against a tree trunk or solid object, we call this the "happy dance". They are happy to see you. Even the feral cats.

Through this daily interaction, walking the neighborhood, feeding cats, talking to them, petting them when permitted, checking for new ones, the average person is amazed at their range of emotions and ability to communicate.

In the past two months, Lion King transformed to a sweet cat, kneading, purring and for the first time, meowing. He was like an orphaned child, hungry for affection and food.

Sitting in the waiting room of the vet clinic, Lion King in his carrier started purring. Ok so it could be a nervous purr. But then he started kneading. He was comforted by my stroking his gold fur.  This once feral cat was literally melting in my hands! I cried quietly.  "Why now?" I asked God.  "Why now after four years does he trust me unconditionally?"  But as a feral cat caretaker I knew the answer-- The dangers of living in a city.  On average they live to six years of age. Lion King was anywhere from 4-5 years old. And in those years, he lived a good life. He was fed daily, never missing a meal in four years, 365 days. Ours was a a journey built on trust--just like any relationship.  It took time and patience and routine. Nothing is impossible with patience and regular TLC.

Lion King sought shelter from severe rains in our condo garage and appeared for feedings outside at a designated area volunteers created and named "Station 1". He was indeed a King, staking the west side of the Riverfront, protecting the other cats from invaders and patiently waiting for us humans nightly to provide sustenance.

Lion King kneading in carrier at vet's office

 Dr. Wilber asked me if I wanted to stay for the final  injection.  "Oh no," I stated emphatically. I said my goodbyes while he lie awake on the clinic bed, his head on the pillow, his shriveled body tucked underneath towels like blankets. I stroked his head "Lion King, I have to say goodbye. You taught me so much about cats and about myself. You changed my life for the better. Now you're going to a better place. No more suffering Lion King. You're going to pet heaven. And I promise Lion King, I will see you there in the future. I don't want to go to people heaven.  I asked God to send me to pet heaven.  No more suffering my sweet boy. No more suffering. Run, play and eat all you want. I love you."

As I looked up at the vet, she too was crying.  She thanked and comforted me with kind words "Lion King had a good life thanks to you. Without you he would die a slow painful death. He knew to trust you." Absorbing her words, the tears paused. Yes, Lion King had a wonderful life as a cat, free to roam the outdoors--climb trees, hunt for insects, play with his friends, and breathe fresh air.  I made a difference.

Lion King was the first male homeless cat that I came across upon moving to these newly built condos. I had already encountered Aurora, Pandora, Midora and Cosette, all females. So I anointed him "Lion King" his gold fur fit for royalty. Despite the fact that he was feral, and a gruff exterior to match, I knew he would make a good king. Little did I know he would teach me, not just the Circle of Life but also "The Circle of Love". Cats form a bond with their environment and people. They don't just receive food, they give back like any pet.  In feeding these cats daily, spending a few minutes with them, they enriched my life.They teach me respect for nature, never take anything for granted, and most important -- humility.

Until we meet again Lion King, we will continue the circle of love.
Love, Christine
on behalf of  Sabrina, Mollie, Richard, Larry & Juan.

Christine feeds Leroy and Lion King. They were best friends.

Lion King was the leader of Station 1. He watched over and protected the other cats including Nikki, Sonny, Tiffany and Leroy. Lion King adored Leroy and they often could be seen playing together. Lion King became visibly sad when we had to take Leroy away due to severe injury. This was the first time we ever heard Lion King meow, he was crying. Leroy had leg amputation and is recovering nicely. He will become an indoor pet cat. At this time we are still collecting donations to pay the vet bill. Any amount is greatly appreciated. Feel free to donate by clicking the DONATE button.Thank you for continuing the circle of love.


  1. Christine - I am so sorry that Lion King is no longer with us in the physical sense. He was my first introduction into the world of feral advocacy and he holds such a dear spot in my heart.

    He will forever remain a reminder to fight the cause for these beautiful outdoor creatures who need our voice, compassion, and caring.

    May he rest in peace and my deep sympathies to you.

  2. That so made my whiskers weepy wet. Thank you for providing him with the love and attention he so deserved. Yes indeed, he knew he could trust you. Run free handsome one, run free.

  3. Christine, I'm so sorry an era has passed for you. Lion King taught you what you needed to care for him and others like him, now he goes elsewhere to help someone else.

    I'm another cat blogger/rescuer in Pittsburgh, and I know Deb Barnes through blogging, and follow you through her. All my best to you and the rest of the Riverfront Cats.

  4. Christine, Lion King was such a beautiful dignified looking cat. I am so sorry that he has gone. You have done and are still doing miracles with these kitties and you write from your heart! Hugs, Caro x

  5. We're so very sorry for the loss of your sweet Lion King. What a lucky kitty he was to have your love and care.
    Your words and prayer for him have touched our hearts, Christine.

  6. I am so sorry to read that Lion King had to be helped to the Rainbow Bridge. But this is true that you made his life better and he trusted you and you made the difference in his life and I am sure he was thankful for all you did.
    Sending lots of purrs and hugs from the humans

  7. this is a sad day!may Lion king roar and rule over the rainbow bridge!xxSpeedy and mum

  8. This is my first time here, thank you much for your comment on my post on Caren's blog. When I first saw the picture of Lion King, it reminded me of one of my favorite pictures I took of my cat, Alex. Sadly I used that picture when he went to the bridge too...

    Lion king sounds like an amazing guy, who although had a hard and short life, thanks to you and others a happy life....

    run free lion king, run free,,,

  9. Christine, I am so,so sorry for your loss - beautiful Lion King. Such a sweet story and unfortunately I know your feeling oh too well. Wish I was there to give you a hug. As you know our stories are similar as you posted on my blog. May all those sweet memories always put a smile on your face and warm your heart. You truly provided Lion King a wonderful life as well as the other kitties you care for. ~Adriana

  10. my heart aches for you. Lion King was happy to have you as his guardian angel for all these years. and now maybe he can be yours. ya done good girl. ((hugs))

  11. Many tears for Lion King, but what a wonderful life you gave to him--free and yet lovingly cared for! If only they could live forever!