Shortly after Melissa Hempen moved to a new neighborhood in Mount Vernon, Illinois, a black and white community cat started visiting her home. “He liked to hang out in our backyard quite a bit,” says Melissa. “We have windows in our basement and when we would be down there we would occasionally see him peeking in through the windows.”
While the adorable cat had seen a lot of Melissa and her family, it wasn’t until a particularly cold day in November 2016 that she was able to get closer look at him. “We were expecting terrible weather that evening — sleet and freezing rain,” remembers Melissa. “We have these huge pine trees on the side of our house and I just so happened to look out the window that day and saw him trying to keep warm in the pine needles on the ground at the base of the tree.”
Filled with sympathy for the stray cat who was doing his best to survive the cold weather, Melissa realized the black and white feline was actually missing his back feet, and she knew there was no way she could allow him to spend the night outside.
“I just went out and scooped him up without a second thought,” says Melissa. “When I actually got close enough to pick him up, I saw that he was also covered in fleas and his skin was in terrible condition.”
Shortly after Melissa rescued the unique cat — who she named Lieutenant Dan after the fictional character from Forrest Gump who lost the lower part of his legs while serving in the Vietnam War — she took him to the vet for a thorough examination. The veterinarian determined Lieutenant Dan, or LD for short, was approximately five years old, and he had most likely lost his hind feet as a result of abuse or an accident.
“Our vet thinks either some cruel person did that to him or he possibly got caught in a trap or some other type of accident,” explains Melissa. “I suppose it’s possible he was born without them but the vet believes the nubs would be formed differently if that were the case.”
Even though it’s impossible to know exactly what happened to Lieutenant Dan, or what his life was like before he was rescued, today, this adorable black and boy cat is doing extremely well. “I think people who have never met LD might think of him as this fragile, extra needy cat,” says Melissa, “but anyone who has ever met LD in person knows that he is a tough boy.”
In fact, Lieutenant Dan is so brave, he is the boss of Melissa’s home, and he’s not the least bit afraid of the four other animals who share his house, including his two chocolate lab brothers, although he tends to run and hide when his mom’s nephews come to visit.
While he might not like children, this handsome boy loves hanging out with his mom and cuddling with his cat brothers, but there’s nothing he enjoys more than having his hair brushed. “He will follow me around wherever I go if he sees me with his brush in my hand,” says Melissa.
Because Lieutenant Dan is such a courageous and curious cat, Melissa thinks he might enjoy going for walks around the neighborhood he once called home, so she is planning to get a stroller to take him out on adventures.
Being so independent and spirited, Lieutenant Dan doesn’t require a lot of extra care. However, because he’s missing his hind feet, Lieutenant Dan tends to drag his back end up behind him, and Melissa has to bathe him from time to time to help him stay clean, something this special cat hates. “I have found putting on music and singing to him tends to calm him during bath time,” says Melissa.
Also, Lieutenant Dan isn’t able to get as much exercise as a typical cat, which his mom believes has made it hard for him to maintain his ideal weight. “He doesn’t act like walking on his nubs hurts him,” explains Melissa, “but he has to go slow wherever he goes.”
Aside from these relatively minor challenges, Lieutenant Dan isn’t all that different from the average feline, and Melissa believes he is living proof that special needs cats can have wonderful lives. “His life seemed pretty miserable before I took him in and now he’s living the life,” says Melissa. “A little love and compassion goes so far, especially for a special needs animal. They deserve a shot at life too and shouldn’t be written off.”
Fortunately for Lieutenant Dan, when he sought shelter near Melissa’s house more than two years ago, he ended up finding the perfect home. For Melissa, who didn’t think twice about rescuing Lieutenant Dan, she found both a family member and a very special cat who loves her just as much as she loves him.
“He’s got one of the best personalities I’ve ever seen in a cat and sometimes I can even feel how appreciative he is that he has a home where people love him now,” says Melissa. “He’s part of the family and I want to see to it that he gets to live out his golden years happily.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Lieutenant Dan on Instagram.