When Maria Torres heard that there was a stray black and white cat roaming the streets near her home in El Monte, California, she was surprised, having never see the animal herself. “My sister told me she had seen this kitten wandering around,” says Maria, “and to be honest, I thought she was crazy.”
However, a few days later in November 2016, Maria spotted the kitten for the first time, trapped behind a fence that was secured with a locked wrought iron gate. Unfortunately, she was unable to get to him, so she tossed some food over the fence, hoping that the little cat would somehow manage to squeeze through the doors of the gate.
To her dismay, the tuxedo kitten remained behind the fence, so Maria crossed the street and returned to her home. “I felt so bad,” remembers Maria. While she was in her driveway, Maria saw the little cat had somehow managed to free himself, and she raced back across the road and gave him some food. “He ate so desperately,” says Maria. “I let him eat, then scooped him up, and he began to purr. That’s when I noticed that something was different about him.”
When Maria examined the kitten, who was approximately four months old at the time, she initially thought he was a girl, but when she took the cat to a vet, she discovered he actually had feline cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles. As a result, Maria began calling the little kitten — whom she and her boyfriend had initially named Xena — Figaro.
She also learned that Figaro had a broken penis, he’d been born without a rectal sphincter, he had a necrotic tail, and he was incontinent. “Based on the wounds — the injuries and so on — the doctor concluded that Figaro might have been used as a dog toy,” says Maria. “He advised us to euthanize [him] about two to three times.”
However, Maria and Christian refused to put Figaro to sleep, and instead, the couple dedicated themselves to giving him a chance at a happy life, initially planning to foster him until they were able to find a permanent home for the special needs kitten. The couple quickly discovered that Figaro — who had to have his necrotic tail amputated — came with a unique set of challenges, but they developed a system and learned techniques to help them care for the incontinent kitty.
“Honestly, we could not have been able to do any of this if it wasn’t for the wonderful cat community on Instagram,” says Maria. Not surprisingly, Maria and Christian formed a deep bond with the little special needs cat, and by early 2017, they decided Figaro was meant to be with them forever.
“We built a routine around his care,” says Maria. “We knew him, and he knew us and trusted us. Plus, we fell in love with the little fella!” Figaro’s routine involves expressing his bladder, changing his diaper, giving him special food for his sensitive GI system, and frequently grooming him. “We shave Figaro’s lower body, underbelly, and tush for hygienic purposes, ” explains Maria. “He gets a bath regularly to make sure he’s smelling good and clean.”
Shaving and bathing Figaro has been relatively simple for the couple, but they don’t always find it easy to change his diapers. “Sometimes he fights us because he wants to run around diaper-free,” explains Maria. “It’s funny because if either I or Christian see him diaper-free, we run, yelling ‘code brown!’ “
However, Figaro doesn’t always want to wear a diaper, so the couple has set up a massive crate, complete with a hammock, where he gets to enjoy some time in the buff. “Figaro loves his crate,” says Maria, “and he loves being up on his hammocks, just relaxing the day away diaper-free.”
In addition to spending time in his crate, Figaro loves to play, and he’s particularly obsessed with the catnip kickers his mom makes and sells to help raise money for his care, as well as the foster and community cats Maria and Christian look after. “He goes crazy for them and even steals them!” says Maria, proving that while Figaro has special needs, he’s still a typical cat who likes making mischief and getting into trouble.
Maria realizes that caring for a kitty with Figaro’s many issues — some of which are congenital, while others are most likely products of abuse — isn’t always easy, but she insists that it’s always worth it. “It takes a strong person to care for someone like Figaro,” says Maria.
“Incontinent cats are always overlooked and people feel they should be euthanized.” Thankfully, both Maria and Christian are incredibly strong people, and Figaro — like Xena, the warrior he was initially named after — is a fighter, and the three of them are working to show the world that special needs cats can have happy and fulfilling lives.
While Maria came along when Figaro desperately needed a home and someone to love and take of him, she says that this adorable tuxedo cat entered her life when she was at an extremely low point. “I lost my beloved tuxedo [cat] Patches to kidney disease in June 16, 2016,” says Maria, just five months before she rescued Figaro, and she credits this special needs cat with helping her cope with the passing of the black and white cat she’d had from the time he was just six weeks old.
Many people might think Figaro is lucky to have Maria — and he is — but she insists that she’s also very fortunate to have this one of a kind kitty as her constant companion. “He needs me as much I need him,” says Maria. “He’s a gentle reminder that despite what happens, we have to look forward for another blessed day.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Figaro on Instagram.