Jacqueline Santiago, who works as a compliance specialist in permanent support housing in downtown Los Angeles, was heading to lunch when one of her coworkers stopped her in the parking lot and told her there were three little kittens living in an alley behind a nearby building.
“She knows I own an animal rescue,” says Jacqueline, the owner and co-founder of Friends for Life Rescue Network, “so I went back to check it out. There was a gap between two buildings; the kittens were living in that gap but would come out for food.”
Eager to help the the young cats, Jacqueline returned that evening, determined to trap the three little felines. “The first kitten, Bear, did not run so I was able to scoop him up,” remembers Jacqueline, while she had to use a drop trap to get his litter mates, Foxy and Wolfie.
All three of the kittens were underweight and malnourished, and as Jacqueline drove to her home on the evening of December 18, 2017, Bear’s health started to rapidly decline. “We immediately started working on saving him,” says Jacqueline “After about four hours, he didn’t make it.”
Saddened by Bear’s sudden passing, Jacqueline — who had initially focused most of her attention on the sickest of the three kittens — examined his siblings more closely and discovered that Wolfie had an overbite that made him look as though he was constantly smiling, as well as slanted eyes and a scrunched nose. Aside from Wolfie’s unique face and his low body weight, the little grey kitten appeared to be healthy, and Jacqueline dedicated herself to helping him and his sister gain weight.
“About a week later, Wolfie couldn’t keep any food down and was rapidly losing more weight,” remembers Jacqueline, so she took the young cat — who was approximately four weeks old at the time — to the vet. “Xrays revealed his esophagus was loaded with food debris,” says Jacqueline, and a CT scan showed that Wolfie had a growth on his esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Consequently, Wolfie’s esophagus was constricted by the growth, making it difficult for him to get any nutrition from the food he was consuming.
“I was asked to euthanize Wolfie at the ER,” remembers Jacqueline. “They said, ‘It’s not a matter of whether you can save him, but if you should.’ ” While Jacqueline listened to what the doctors had to say, she decided that she should try to save Wolfie, and after consulting with Friends for Life Rescue Network’s veterinarian, she started the little kitten on a liquid diet.
When he was approximately eight weeks old, Jacqueline began giving Wolfie kitten milk formula exclusively, feeding him every two hours to help him gain weight and grow. Jacqueline, who has a full-time job in addition to her rescue work, enlisted the help of volunteers who were willing to care for the special needs kitten during the day to make sure little Wolfie didn’t miss even one of his 12 daily feeding sessions.
Jacqueline — who woke up multiple times during the night to feed Wolfie — as well as the rescue’s volunteers, had to hold the little kitten upright after giving him the milk to make sure the liquid didn’t get trapped in his esophagus. “When he was first critical, we had to hold him for 10 minutes,” says Jacqueline. “Then it went down to five minutes, then two minutes.”
When Wolfie hit three pounds a few weeks ago, Jacqueline started blending canned food into his milk, and today, he weighs more than four pounds and only has to be held upright for 20 to 60 seconds after eating. “He does fight us on holding nowadays as he’d much rather run around and play,” says Jacqueline. “The older and bigger he gets, the larger his esophagus becomes which decreases holding time.”
Today, Wolfie is a happy and extremely active little kitten who loves to play with his sister, Foxy, and all of the other cats who live in Jacqueline’s home. “Wolfie loves chasing after my kitties,” says Jacqueline. “He goes from cat to cat and pounces on them. He does this affectionately, usually purring the entire time.” Like a typical cat, Wolfie enjoys a good nap, but this tiny kitty is extremely adventurous and can often be found at the top of the very tall cat trees Jacqueline has around her Los Angeles home.
While Wolfie’s life got off to an incredibly difficult start, he’s now a content and playful kitten who almost certainly wouldn’t be alive right now if Jacqueline hadn’t rescued him and his siblings from a Los Angeles alley in December 2017. If by some stroke of luck, someone else had saved Wolfie and his litter mates, there’s a good chance they would have put him to sleep — just as Jacqueline was advised to do — when doctors discovered the growth on esophagus. “They told me he would not be able to live a happy life,” says Jacqueline, “and I think we have been able to prove otherwise.”
Jacqueline hopes Wolfie’s story will inspire others — including rescues and veterinarians — to try to help special needs cats, instead of choosing to euthanize them. “They all deserve a chance and they are so grateful for it!” says Jacqueline. “They make some of the best kitties!”
Wolfie has definitely endeared himself to Jacqueline, and the pair now share an unbreakable bond that continues to grow stronger and stronger with every midnight feeding and holding session. In fact, Jacqueline is so taken with Wolfie, that she’s decided to adopt him, giving this special cat and equally special mom. “He means the world to me,” says Jacqueline. “I love him so, so much and he’s my best boy. My little man.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Wolfie on Instagram.