Melody Tanouye was scrolling through Instagram in late 2016 when a photo of a homeless black and white feline immediately grabbed her attention. “Little Wanderers NYC had posted a picture of a cat that was spotted by someone in the Bronx,” remembers Melody. “It was under a car sitting there with his whole chest ripped open with maggots in it. The look on his face was the saddest thing I ever saw.”
As she stared at the photo in disbelief, Melody decided that if Little Wanderers NYC — an animal rescue in New York City — was able to get the seriously injured feline off the streets, she would give him a forever home with her in Kingston, Pennsylvania. “I couldn’t believe a cat could be walking around like that and still surviving,” says Melody. “I immediately let it be known that if this cat was found — and if he lived — I wanted to adopt him.”
A few days later, Little Wanderers NYC rescued the battered black and white cat and wasted no time getting him to a vet for a thorough examination. “He was in terrible shape,” says Melody. “His severe wound needed multiple surgeries and he was also anemic, full of parasites, had FIV — and a mouth full of rotten teeth that comes with it — a huge polyp in one ear, and a bullet near his kidney.”
After examining the cat — who Little Wanderers NYC named Hercules — the veterinarian determined he was approximately seven or eight years old, and it was obvious to everyone that he was extremely feral and had most likely been homeless for his entire life. Melody learned that after Hercules was discharged from the animal hospital, he would need to go to a foster home to recuperate and adjust to life off the streets.
Presented with the prospect of adopting a feral cat with FIV, Melody — who had rescued multiple injured and abandoned animals in the past — was undeterred. “I was positive no one would take him and he would end up in some sanctuary or something and i just wanted to try to offer him something better,” explains Melody. “This was a cat who had absolutely nothing his whole life and has probably seen the worst of humans. I wanted to give him the world.”
On November 13, 2016, Melody officially adopted Hercules, and just as she had expected, the former street cat rejected her, her home, and her other pets right away. “He immediately went to hide in my basement,” remembers Melody. “He didn’t want anything to do with me or the other cats; he was shut down and depressed.”
While it wasn’t the homecoming Melody had hoped for, it was one she had anticipated, and she was just happy that Hercules was safe and warm after years of living on the streets of New York City.
For a year, Hercules hid in the basement’s rafters, refusing to let Melody near him, which turned taking the black and white feline to the vet an unpleasant ordeal for everyone involved. However, everything began to change when Melody brought a new rescue cat home.
“I rescued a kitten from a dumpster and Hercules started coming upstairs,” says Melody, and she used these regular visits as an opportunity to develop a relationship with the reticent tuxedo cat. “Once he was upstairs he took interest in my food whenever I ate,” explains Melody, “and I used that to get him to accept being pet and it worked great.”
Over time, not only did Hercules allow his mom to pet him, he began communicating with Melody through purrs and squawks. Now — several months since he allowed Melody to touch him for the first time — Hercules has transformed from a reclusive and frightened feline into a trusting and loving cat.
“He’s at the point now where he lets me massage his head and closes his eyes and purrs when it’s food time,” says Melody. “It’s the best feeling in the world knowing this cat never trusted any human in his life and he lets me do that.”
Today, Hercules — who was living on the streets with a maggot-infested wound when he was rescued by Little Wanderers NYC — is enjoying his new life with Melody and her seven other cats, including Rosie, the rescue kitten who helped him become more extroverted. “He took interest in that kitten and I ended up keeping her just for him,” says Melody.
When Hercules isn’t spending time with his best friend — “He likes to hang out with his kitten, Rosie,” says Melody — he enjoys indulging in another one of his favorite activities: eating. “Food is how I broke through his shell,” explains Melody, “and I’m sure he’s loving being fed regularly and whatever he wants compared to scrounging on the streets for food.”
Because Hercules has feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Melody gives him good quality food, as well as probiotics and supplements, to keep this handsome boy as healthy as possible. However, she’s not concerned about Hercules transmitting FIV, a retrovirus that weakens the immune system, to her cats who don’t have the disease.
After all, FIV is usually transmitted through sex or deep bite wounds related to fighting, and Hercule is neutered and relatively easy-going. “Most of his teeth were already removed, so I don’t have to worry about him biting anyone,” says Melody, “and he’s not aggressive to the other cats anyway.”
Sadly, not everyone realizes that under these conditions, it’s perfectly safe for a cat with FIV to live with cats who don’t have the virus, a misconception that can have dire consequences. “A lot of shelters and even vets condemn FIV cats to death sentences,” says Melody. “They put them down for no reason really, because these cats can easily live long lives and live with other cats.”
Hercules, who has been through so much, has inspired Melody to continue her quest to raise awareness about the importance of sterilizing cats, especially feral felines. Melody also hopes that by sharing the stories of cats like Hercules — who still has a bullet lodged in his kidney — she can help change how people view and treat animals.
“These issues are human-caused from people throwing cats out and not spaying or neutering,” says Melody. “Then, pregnant cats have kittens that run the streets and spread infections like FIV. For them to be controlled we need to practice TNR (the practice of trapping, neutering, and returning homeless cats to their communities) and teach children compassion and respect for animals and all living things.”
While there is still a lot of work to be done to help protect animals from abuse, neglect, and illness, Melody is definitely doing her part, and she is reaping rewards for her efforts that no one can place a value upon. Hercules, who spent a year hiding in her basement until the lure of a fluffy playmate and a tasty plate of food made him regularly venture upstairs, has made a remarkable transformation, and for Melody, that’s more than enough compensation for her hard work.
“Hercie means the world to me,” says Melody. “There is nothing like the feeling of being able to pet him now and hearing him purr and squawk. I really never expected him to come this far. I’ll never know everything he went through, but I do know that he will be spoiled for the rest of his days.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Hercules on Instagram.