When Stephanie McCurry learned about a 6-week-old kitten who had been rescued by the wife of her husband’s coworker in May 2018, she couldn’t even entertain the idea of adopting the young tabby cat.
After all, her beloved cat, Kitty Sunshine, who had helped her through two battles with breast cancer and the deaths of multiple family members and pets, had recently been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and a mass in her stomach. “Kitty Sunshine was my main priority at that time,” explains Stephanie. “She wasn’t doing well and my one and only job was to get her better and stronger.”
While Stephanie devoted all of her time and energy to helping Kitty Sunshine improve, her health declined incredibly quickly, and she passed away on June 28, 2018, when she was 13 years old. “When Kitty became my angel, I hated being at my house,” remembers Stephanie. “My soulkitty was gone. Our house was broken.”
When Stephanie told her husband Chuck she couldn’t bear being at home alone without a pet to love and keep her company, she learned he was already working on finding a new kitty companion. On July 1, 2018, Chuck took Stephanie to meet the cat his coworker’s wife had rescued a few months earlier, a tabby kitten who appeared in her yard in Greenesville, Tennessee, when he was just six weeks old.
“His eyes were both completely matted shut,” says Stephanie. “She took him in and took him to the vet the following day.” Instead of attempting to treat the kitten’s infected eyes, the veterinarian suggested euthanizing him, not even giving the young cat the chance to get better. Thankfully, his rescuer refused to put him to sleep, and she left the animal hospital with antibiotic ointment to put on his eyes.
When Chuck and Stephanie met the kitten, he was approximately three months old, and while he was in better shape than when he was rescued, it was obvious he still needed a lot of care. “When I walked in and saw him, my heart exploded,” remembers Stephanie. “He looked so, so sick but yet so, so sweet.”
On the drive over, Stephanie had cried the entire way, racked with feelings of guilt and uncertainty because she didn’t want Kitty to feel as though she was being replaced, but also because she was worried that she wasn’t emotionally stable enough to take on a new pet. However, when Stephanie finally came face to face with the tiny tabby kitten, she realized he was actually a gift from Kitty Sunshine to help her heal. “She knew I wouldn’t be able to make it without her,” says Stephanie, “so she sent this special little boy.”
Stephanie and Chuck adopted the kitten, naming him Hunter Ray, and he settled into their home right away, cuddling with his new mom all through that first night. “He was so tiny he could literally snuggle up on my neck,” says Stephanie. “I fell in love with him from that moment and he started healing — and continues to heal — my broken heart.”
Smitten with the little kitten, Stephanie wanted to get him the care he deserved, so she took him to the vet shortly after adopting him. One of his eyes was still infected, and while one doctor wanted to remove it, another was determined to save it. With the help of lots of different types of antibiotics, Stephanie and the vet managed to save Hunter’s eye, although the prolonged infection did cause some permanent damage. “He can’t see 100% out of it, but he can see some,” explains Stephanie. “It doesn’t stop him from running his 100 mph zoomies.”
Hunter also had to try lots of different types of deworming medicine before he found one that successfully rid his body of the parasites that had contributed to his poor health. Thanks to Stephanie, Hunter was improving, making the news she received at his second vet visit infinitely more surprising and devastating. “That’s when we found out he had feline leukemia,” says Stephanie. “It broke my heart into a million pieces, but that wasn’t going to make me love him any less.”
Feline leukemia (FeLV) is an incurable virus that usually suppresses the immune system, and it is the most common cause of cancer in cats. It is highly contagious, and it can be transmitted from cat to cat through bites, grooming, and sharing litter boxes and food and water bowls.
Pregnant cats can also pass the virus to their kittens before they’re born, which is how Hunter’s vet thinks he probably contracted it. “Feline leukemia is very scary to hear,” says Stephanie. “A long time ago, the lifespan was three to four years with feline leukemia. Now, with proper diet, keeping him safe inside, and supplements, he can live a long and healthy life.”
Shortly after Hunter was diagnosed with feline leukemia, Stephanie began giving him supplements from NHV Natural Pet, and today, his symptoms — which included runny eyes — are virtually nonexistent. However, because the virus is highly contagious, Stephanie won’t be able to adopt another cat unless they also have feline leukemia. “It’s not contagious to dogs, so we may get him a doggie sibling one day,” says Stephanie.
While it’s impossible to say exactly what the future holds, Hunter — who recently celebrated his first birthday on April 20, 2019 — is thriving, and even though he doesn’t have perfect vision, he’s an incredibly active and agile young cat. “Hunter loves to play hide and seek with me, he loves to play fetch, and he loves to scare me,” says Stephanie. “He thinks it’s so funny.”
When Hunter isn’t surprising his mom, he’s usually by her side, keeping her company even while she meditates. “Basically, anywhere I am, Hunter will be,” explains Stephanie. “He is a momma’s boy through and through!” This close relationship makes it easy for Stephanie to keep an on eye Hunter’s health, allowing her to act as quickly as possible at the first sign of illness, from sneezing to abnormal growths.
Just a few months after Hunter found his forever home, he developed a large lump on his leg, and Stephanie was understandably concerned and immediately brought him to the vet’s office. “He had to have a major surgery to remove the lump,” remembers Stephanie, and she and her husband had to await the results of the tissue biopsy. “We were prepared for the worst because of how the lump looked and felt.” Fortunately, the lump was just the result of a vaccine reaction, making it benign, but it was still an upsetting experience for both Hunter and Stephanie.
Aside from worrying about Hunter’s more than she would able the average one-year-old cat, Stephanie has found caring for a kitty with feline leukemia to be fairly easy. “Take it from me, feline leukemia isn’t a death sentence,” says Stephanie. “As long as you’re able to feed your cat a healthy diet, keep him or her inside or take them outside on harnesses only, and make sure to always check for any lumps, then they can be blessed with countless more healthy and happy years.”
When Stephanie first learned about Hunter, she was completely focused on caring for her beloved cat, Kitty Sunshine, and she definitely wasn’t in a position to adopt the sickly tabby kitten. Following Kitty’s passing, Stephanie felt torn because even though she wanted to share her life with another cat, the thought of even appearing as though she was trying to replace someone so irreplaceable filled her with feelings of guilt.
Fortunately, Stephanie was able to find the courage, resilience, and optimism she needed to open her home to Hunter, and it’s a decision — like the one she made when she rescued Kitty Sunshine in 2006 — that she has never regretted.
“I can’t imagine my life without him — we truly saved and continue to save each other.” says Stephanie. “We are best buddies and he makes me laugh every day. He hates when I cry, so he’ll do something silly to make me laugh through my tears and then snuggle with me for hours when I’m not feeling good. Kitty Sunshine couldn’t have sent me a better boy in the universe!”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Hunter on Instagram.