SPRING CITY >> Move over “Grumpy Cat,” the Internet has a new feline superstar and this one has just one eye, four teeth, a bent ear and a chronic disease.
The cat, Zebediah, is that odd mixture of characteristics — compelling story, looks which are, shall we say, “non-traditional” and cat — which the Internet seems to find endlessly irresistible.
But despite his decidedly hard-luck story and his fame, for the Flor family of Spring City, Zeb is mostly just one of their cats.
“They don’t really care that he’s a celebrity,” Beth Flor said of her two daughters Margot, 4, and Penny, 6. “He acts like a kitten and he is very playful.”
But Zeb is anything but a kitten.
The newly fortunate feline falls into a category known in the animal rescue field as “senior pets.”
Because they are nearer to the end of their life span, require more medical care and are often perceived as being too set in their ways to adapt to a new environment, senior pets are often difficult to place in new homes.
And that is the primary reason Flor said she is glad that Zeb has become the newest darling of cyberspace.
“My only real goal here is to spread awareness about senior pet adoptions,” she said.
Her interest in the issue began when Flor — who is vice president of The Spayed Club, which operates a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Sharon Hill — met Drooper, an older lab mix.
“I was walking dogs for Mainline Rescue and I had been walking this one dog for a year and I could see he was deteriorating, that he wasn’t going to last much longer in the shelter, so I brought him home,” Flor said.
“People say they don’t want to adopt older pets, but those four years we had with Drooper are probably the best four years we’ve ever spent with any animal,” said Flor.
And she’s got plenty of experience against which to compare it.
Currently, “somewhat to my husband’s dismay,” the Flor household is home not only to Zebediah, but also to Mabel, another cat who is “slowly getting used to” Zeb’s presence in the house, and three dogs.
“He loves animals,” Flor said of her husband with a chuckle, “but I don’t think he would mind if we had a few less.”
But Flor said her daughter Penny “loves cats and she just wanted a cat so badly.”
Enter the Internet.
Zeb’s photo was first posted on the Facebook page run by the Cumberland County SPCA in New Jersey.
“To be bluntly honest, Zebediah looked like a dead cat walking” when he arrived at the SPCA, according to an article in The Daily Journal newspaper in Vineland, N.J., and written by Maria DeFillipo of the Cumberland County SPCA.
Zeb was “missing an eye and had only four teeth; his ear was bent and his fur was patchy.”
Then, when tests showed Zebediah had feline immunodeficiency virus, “we almost lost hope; while we loved Zeb, we knew keeping him at the SPCA shelter was not an option,” DeFillipo wrote.
FIV is a disease, which, like HIV in humans, affects a cat’s immune system.
The disease is not contagious to humans and is contagious to other cats only as the result of a deep bite — something a cat with four teeth is unlikely to deliver.
Nevertheless, the diagnosis lowered Zeb’s chances of being adopted even more.
Luckily for him, he has the kind of face Facebook loves to love.
“What we didn’t expect was the incredible outpouring of support that we would receive for Zebediah. Our hearts weren’t the only hearts stolen by this old man,” DeFillipo wrote.
“As his picture circulated on Facebook, I began receiving emails with offers to help him. What started as a trickle ended up as flood! I was contacted by hundreds of people about Zeb. Now our problem wasn’t if we could find placement — it was which offer was best. I sorted through the emails and responded to all of them,” she wrote.
The best offer came from City of Elderly Love and when Zeb’s photo appeared on their Facebook page, my ‘Zebsession’ began to grow,” Flor said.
Already friends with Erin Lewin — the founder of City of Elderly Love rescue, which has saved 100 senior animals from shelters in the Philadelphia area since it was founded last April — it didn’t take much cajoling for Flor to be the one to bring Zeb home.
Flor said being informed about senior pets and FIV made the decision easy.
“The last four animals I’ve adopted have all been seniors, FIV+, or some combination of the two, and they’ve been amazing companions,” Flor wrote in an email to Digital First Media.
“Senior pets are at the highest risk of euthanasia due to age and their perceived ‘adaptability,’ so City of Elderly Love works to make senior pet adoption more popular,” Flor wrote.
Thanks to Zeb, it would seem that mission has been advanced considerably.
“I want people to know that there are millions of dogs and cats just like Zeb in shelters all across the country. Just because an animal may not look like the obvious choice for adoption doesn’t mean he or she won’t be perfect for your family.”