When Barbara Ann Gareis’s husband George, an Animal Control Officer and Animal Cruelty Investigator for Bordentown Township in New Jersey, was asked to assist a neighboring town with an animal bite case in July 2015, he was eager to help. After examining the animal in question — a homeless cat who had been dubbed Bruiser by the people in the neighborhood — George determined there was no way he could have been responsible for biting anyone.
“George realized he barely had any teeth,” explains Barbara. “And it was obvious that Bruiser had suffered from neglect and abuse.” George learned Bruiser had once been a family pet, but when his owners moved from the neighborhood, they didn’t take him with them, leaving him behind to fend for himself.
Concerned for Bruiser’s health, George took the bedraggled feline to a local vet’s office, Columbus Central Animal Hospital, where a medical examination revealed a plethora of health problems, including feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), ear infections, cellulitis, an injured eye, diabetes, and entropion, a condition that causes a person or animal’s eyelids to turn inward, allowing their eyelashes to irritate their eyes. “The vet estimated that he was about seven or eight years old at that time,” says Barbara.
The veterinarian gave Bruiser fluids and kept him overnight, releasing him to George the following morning. If no one came forward to claim Bruiser, then he would be made available for adoption, but both Barbara and her husband knew it would difficult for a 7-year-old cat with special needs to find a forever home.
“George brought him to our house where we quarantined him under the law for the ten days required.,” explains Barbara. “My first reaction to him when he arrived at my house was a state of shock. He was dirty and scared, his head was swollen from infection, his ears were mutilated.” With several other rescue pets to look after, Barbara was understandably concerned about Bruiser’s many health problems, and she wasn’t sure she and George would be able to give him the care he needed.
While she had reservations, Barbara committed herself to caring for Bruiser, raising funds to cover the costs of treating his multiple medical issues. “In the beginning, the costs were extremely high because of the surgeries and insulin and such,” says Barbara. “We were fortunate to have raised about $2,500 on a GoFundMe page in 2015.”
With this money, Bruiser was able to get neutered, he had his left eye removed, he got antibiotics for his infected ears, he had the entropion in his right eye surgically corrected, and he began taking insulin for his diabetes.
A few months later Bruiser was diagnosed with feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS), a rare illness that causes cats to experience episodes of agitation, self-mutilation, and rippling skin. “We tried several types of medications, none of which ever helped to improve the situation, so we decided to stop all meds [for feline hyperesthesia syndrome],” explains Barbara. “We decided to put a T-shirt on him, thinking the soft material might help by providing a layer of protection when we pet him. Over time, it actually reduced the frequency of episodes and eventually they stopped altogether!”
Thanks to a special diet and proper medical treatment, Bruiser’s blood sugar eventually stabilized, and just a few months after George and Barbara adopted him, he no longer needed medication. In order to raise awareness about special needs cats like Bruiser — as well as to generate additional funds to help cover his medical care — Barbara wrote and published a book about the day he was rescued. “All the proceeds from the book sales go directly towards the care of Bruiser,” says Barbara.
A recent dental examination revealed this senior cat will need to have several teeth either removed or repaired, and while this medical care comes with a hefty price tag, Barbara and her husband remain committed to getting Bruiser the treatment he deserves. While caring for Bruiser hasn’t been cheap, he is so loving and affectionate, Barbara believes everyone should consider adopting a special needs cat.
“They aren’t quite as difficult to care for as you might think,” says Barbara. “And it is totally all worth it!” After all, thanks to Barbara and George, Bruiser — who was most likely abandoned by his former family — now has a safe and happy home filled with love where he is free to indulge in his favorite activities.
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“He loves treats, he is obsessed with bathing himself, and he enjoys taking naps on his big fluffy pillow,” says Barbara. “Once in a while when he is feeling energetic, he will chase his toy mouse or ball around the house.” No longer homeless, Bruiser’s life is fairly stress-free, which is ideal for a cat who is living with FIV, a lentivirus that can compromise the immune system.
“FIV cats are more prone to sickness and have a more difficult time recovering, so they just need to be well cared for,” explains Barbara. Contrary to popular belief, felines with FIV can live with uninfected cats — as long they are sterilized and get along — because the virus is usually transmitted through intercourse and deep bite wounds. It cannot be transmitted to people or other types of animals, such as dogs, and as long as FIV-positive cats receive adequate medical care, they can have long and happy lives.
While Bruiser has been through so much in life, it’s obvious he is now peaceful and content, safe in the knowledge he has a family who loves and cares for him. Bruiser, whose name is ironic because he is so easygoing and gentle, may not look like a typical feline, but that only makes his mom love him more, not less.
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“It doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside or what disabilities we have; it’s what’s in the heart that matters,” says Barbara. “Everyone deserves love. Bruiser has been such a blessing and I cannot imagine life without him. We have a very special bond.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Bruiser on Instagram.