Twenty-one-year-old Meagan Sturm never expected to end up with a significantly older guy. But she listened to her heart when she stopped by the Sonoma Humane Society in Santa Rosa.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I fell in love.”
Ned, a senior feline with long black fur, a contented purr and an irresistible gaze, swept Sturm off her feet. She knew they were a match.
A patient and customer care assistant at a veterinary practice in her hometown of Petaluma, Sturm had recently gone through a breakup with her boyfriend and was hoping to adopt a young cat to help fill the void and share her love.
“I was looking for a kitten but I walked out with completely the opposite,” she said. “Ned was just staring at me the whole time. He looked so lonely in there.”
The match between Sturm and 18½-year-old Ned was a much-celebrated moment for staff and volunteers at the nonprofit, donor-supported shelter, where Ned had been awaiting a permanent home for four years. He came into the shelter as a stray, matted and bald in spots from maggots that had eaten into his tissue.
His adoption opens space for another cat, thus saving two lives. Older pets and those with medical or behavioral needs are among the most difficult placements. The no-kill shelter is dedicated to finding homes for all adoptable animals, despite their needs or the length of their residency.
Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Reidenbach, director of shelter medicine, recently sent out a plea asking the public to consider adopting special-needs animals currently housed “beyond capacity” at the shelter.
That was after Sturm fell for Ned, who has been in his new home for two months, along with Sturm’s Chihuahua-terrier mix rescue, Marty. The trio is proof there’s great joy in adopting mature and special-needs pets.
Ned requires a monthly injection and medications twice daily, and he doesn’t have a long life expectancy, but Sturm says Ned is just as deserving of a loving home as an adorable kitten.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but he gives me purpose when I get home,” she said. “I don’t regret taking him home a bit. It was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Reidenbach says there are immense rewards in adopting animals seemingly less than perfect. Along with several senior and middle-aged dogs and cats awaiting homes, the shelter’s tenants include a blind poodle named Mopsy and Pixie, a one-eyed cat.
“You can’t be a no-kill shelter if your community is unwilling to adopt. We just become a warehouse,” Reidenbach said. “They’re saved when they’re in a home.”
Although there’s no ceiling on how long an adoptable animal can be housed at the shelter, there’s only room for a maximum of 250 animals. In a year, some 2,200 to 2,500 animals typically come through the shelter.
While darling puppies and kittens typically adopt out quickly, older and other special-needs pets can wait — and wait — for permanent homes.
Despite age or needs, “If they’re up for adoption, they still have a quality of life,” Reidenbach said. “What you realize when you adopt them is they have so much joy and happiness and life.”