When Isabel went to an adoption event in April 2016 for Madrid Felina, an organization dedicated to helping homeless cats in and around Spain’s capital city, she was immediately drawn to Bowie, a white kitty who was missing both his ears and had one blue eye and one green eye, a congenital condition known as heterochromia. “I fell in love with him from the beginning and I really wanted to see how he got along with my other cat Candy,” remembers Isabel.
After speaking with the volunteers at Madrid Felina, Isabel discovered the unique white cat was living on the streets of El Berrueco, a village in central Spain, when he was rescued in November 2014.
“When he was found his ears were really damaged,” says Isabel. “They ran some tests on him and he happened to test positive for a particular type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.”
Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a common form of skin cancer characterized by the accelerated and abnormal growth of squamous cells, the thin, flat cells that make up the outer layer of skin.
When it’s diagnosed early, squamous cell carcinoma is often curable, but when left untreated, it can become invasive, affecting the deeper layers of skin and even spreading to other areas of the body. “It can be a very dangerous type of cancer for cats,” explains Isabel. “If not operated on in time it can cause the death of the cat since it destroys the tissues.”
Fortunately, shortly after Bowie was rescued, the former street cat had surgery to remove both his ears, and he was also given antibiotics and corticoids, a type of anti-inflammatory drug.
By the time he met Isabel in 2016, the earless white cat was cancer-free, but after years spent on the streets, he wasn’t in the best state physically or emotionally. “He was overweight and looked scruffy,” remembers Isabel. “He was also depressed after having suffered so many changes in his life.”
In addition to his unkempt appearance and his depressed demeanor, Bowie was believed to be approximately four years old, which Isabel thought might make it harder for him to get adopted. “He was an older cat with fewer possibilities to find a family than a younger cat,” explains Isabel. Thankfully, Isabel wasn’t put off by Bowie’s age, medical history, unusual looks, or his sadness, but she had to wait until the following summer to adopt him.
Initially, the handsome white cat who had spent most — if not all — of his life on the streets took a while to adjust to his new home and family. “He was a very kind cat, but he was distant and reserved in the beginning,” remembers Isabel. However, she was patient, and Bowie eventually came out his shell, and he even bonded with Candy, Isabel’s cat.
More than three years later, Bowie is doing great, and he adores eating, playing with his toys, and following Candy around. He also loves spending time with Isabel, and while he was shy and reserved in the beginning, today Bowie meows when he’s excited and he has no trouble letting his mom know when he wants to be acknowledged. “He loves jumping up on the coffee table while I’m doing something,” says Isabel, “and he bites my legs asking for attention.”
While Bowie is a pretty typical cat, his uncommon appearance prompts a lot of questions, often from people who mistakenly assume he’s deaf because he’s missing the pinna of his ears, the portion made of cartilage and covered by skin and hair. However, his ear canals and inner ears were not removed, so Bowie is not deaf, nor does he have any hearing issues. “Bowie is just a normal cat,” says Isabel. “Some people think he cannot hear because of his lack of ears but this is not the case.”
Even though he doesn’t have hearing problems, Bowie’s lack of ears does present an unusual challenge for his mom. After all, a cat’s mood can often be conveyed via the movement and position of their ears, making it a bit more difficult for Isabel to understand how Bowie is feeling at any given time. “You end up getting used to it,” says Isabel, “and he is absolutely adorable.”
Still, when people see Bowie for the first time, they’re often surprised by his lack of ears, but this just gives Isabel the opportunity to educate them about squamous cell carcinoma. Not a lot of people realize exposure to sunlight is attributed to the development of squamous cell carcinoma in cats, as is the color of their coats.
“This is a type of cancer that affects mostly light-colored cats,” says Isabel, highlighting two reasons Bowie — a white cat who was living on the streets of Spain when he was rescued — was at risk of developing SCC.
Since adopting Bowie, Isabel has found some people are reluctant to adopt a cat who has survived cancer, often because they fear it might come back or its effects will make it difficult for them to live normal lives.
While she understands and appreciates these concerns, Isabel also believes it’s important to look at cats like Bowie as pets first and cancer survivors second. “I want people to see beyond his illness,” says Isabel. “He is a life companion that deserves all our love and a beautiful life. The older he gets the more we love him.”
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While it’s impossible to know how many years Bowie has left — especially his vet believes he is older than originally thought — today he is healthy and happy, and he no longer has to live the difficult and uncertain life of a street cat. Instead, this adorable boy gets to enjoy the comforts of a home and the security of being surrounded by people who truly love and care for him. “He is just another member of my family,” says Isabel. “I call him my gordito. I love him so much.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Bowie on Instagram.