In November 2016, Michelle Avallone and her boyfriend Sam Wood went to the New England Society for Abandoned Animals (NESAA) in Centerville, Massachusetts, after learning about the organization through their local PetSmart. “We made an appointment to go visit the shelter in hopes of adopting a kitten,” says Michelle, but one of the coordinators at NESAA thought they might be able to provide the perfect home for Jojo, an adult cat whose exact age is still unknown.
The couple learned that Jojo had feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a disease that can compromise a cat’s immune system, and he had been the victim of horrific abuse. When this handsome tabby and white kitty was rescued from the streets by NESAA in November 2016, he had a large scar on his neck where he had been burned. When NESAA took Jojo to get neutered, the rescue had the doctors perform a radiology scan, which revealed multiple bullets lodged in his body. Not only had Jojo been shot multiple times, he had healed fractures, indicating both of his back legs had been broken at some point before he was rescued.
“We were pretty hesitant after hearing his story,” Michelle remembers. “It was so damn sad. I will never understand how people can hurt innocent creatures.” Despite having some reservations, the couple agreed to meet Jojo — who was hiding in a cat condo. Initially, Jojo, who had suffered unspeakable abuse, was nervous around Michelle and Sam, so they simply let him smell their hands and waited for the scared tabby and white cat to approach them. Incredibly, it took Jojo only a few minutes to realize that Michelle and her boyfriend were worthy of his trust, and he started rubbing up against the couple and letting them pet him. “We couldn’t believe it,” says Michelle, “and neither could the coordinator or volunteers.”
However, Michelle and Sam wanted to be certain they were the right people for Jojo, so instead of taking the adorable tabby and white kitty home with them that day, the couple returned to NESAA multiple times to visit him before making a decision. “We wanted to be sure he would be happy,” explains Michelle, “and we could provide him with the best life possible.” On November 27, 2016, Michelle and Sam officially adopted Jojo, and they continued working to build trust with their new feline friend and learn more about his unique needs. Having done a lot of research about FIV before adopting Jojo, the couple knew they weren’t at risk of catching the virus because it’s not transmissible to humans.
Michelle and Sam also discovered that cats with FIV don’t have as many health issues as most people think, especially if they receive nutritious food, clean water, lots of love, and regular medical care. “FIV cats can have dental problems and do have lower immune systems,” says Michelle, “but if you provide for them properly and take them to the vet for regular appointments, there really shouldn’t be any issues.” They also give Jojo — who absolutely loves to eat — treats that contain L-lysine, an essential amino acid, to boost his immune system, and he occasionally get steroids to help with itching caused by the scar on his neck.
Dealing with Jojo’s FIV has been relatively easy for Michelle and Sam, but the emotional and psychological scars from the abuse this handsome tabby and white cat suffered have been a bit more challenging. “He used to get very scared and upset if he thought he did something wrong,” says Michelle. “He is still slightly skittish, but he has gotten so much better!” In order to help Jojo feel more at ease in their home, Michelle and Sam make an effort to remain calm — even with each other — and they shower him with affection to reassure him that he is safe and loved.
Jojo has also grown more comfortable in his new environment thanks to his relationship with Louie, an adorable ginger cat Michelle rescued as a feral kitten when she was living in Indiana in 2010. While FIV is transmissible to other cats, it’s commonly transmitted via blood, often through fighting, and sexual intercourse. Consequently, it’s highly unlikely Jojo, who absolutely adores his adoptive brother, would be able to give the virus to Louie. “Over time, Jojo has started to follow and copycat Louie,” says Sam, “and in turn, Louie follows Jojo.”
It’s been more than a year since the couple adopted Jojo, and during that time, he has taught Michelle ans Sam so much about resilience and inspired her to help other cats in need. “I believe that abused cats truly appreciate being saved,” explains Sam. “They were once kittens, and if we take the time to love and care for them, that young spark can come back.” Determined to help as many cats as possible, Michelle began volunteering at NESAA, the rescue responsible for saving Jojo from the streets.
In addition to helping with the organization’s social media presence, Michelle has distributed donation tins and flyers to local businesses to raise money for NESAA. In conjunction with NESAA coordinators and her fellow volunteers, Michelle has also helped organize events like paint and improv comedy nights, Christmas strolls, and parades, and she even created a fundraiser for Rosemary, a cat who needed to have one of her legs amputated. “I am so glad we found out about NESAA,” says Michelle, “because they are absolutely amazing.”
NESAA also operates a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program, and — according to Michelle — they’re willing to take on more challenging animals, including cats like Jojo who have suffered severe abuse. Michelle and Sam are eternally grateful to the organization for agreeing to help Jojo when other rescues might have been unwilling to come to the aid of an FIV positive cat who had been burned, shot, and had his legs broken. “He’s our little goofball, and it makes us so happy know that we could give him the loving home that he deserves,” say Michelle and Sam. “We are glad he picked us.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Jojo on Instagram.