In Madeira there is a beautiful area called Jardim Do Mar – which translates to ‘garden of the sea’- and comprises a sleepy costal village with stunning views and colossal tumbling waves. The narrow white and grey tiled pathways you use to navigate your way around the residential area are known for their pretty floral patterns – but also for their clowders of stray cats.

The last time Steve and I visited the area our hearts broke at the number of hungry cats and kittens we saw prowling around. We promised ourselves the next time we took a trip there we would bring some cat food with us. Keeping our promise on a glaring hot day some time later, we took some dry kibble and Whiskas to dish out to the mewling pack. My Mam was over from Dublin to visit us at the time and took some photos of the feeding scuffle.

Standing away from the pack was a tiny kitten. She was filthy, skinny and not eating – definitely the runt of the litter and too feeble to fight her way into the crowd of cats to eat. I tried to coax her towards the food but she wasn’t interested.

Later that night while we were reviewing the photos my mam had taken, we couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness at the sight of that little kitten. With her head bowed she just looked so defeated – the saddest kitten in the world.

The next day was my mam’s last before she returned home, and after having coffee we had planned to visit the local botanical gardens. It was a chill day but we all had the sad kitten on our minds. “Well” – said my mam, “I guess we can go visit the botanical gardens, or we can go back and rescue that little cat.” And with that, we headed back on the hour drive to rescue the saddest kitten in the world, and decided that she would be called Elmo.

Elmo’s rescue was swift and hurried. We worried that someone would object to us taking her.. but logically in that condition she didn’t belong to anyone. As we walked towards the area where the stray cats gathered, I fretted that we wouldn’t be able to find her again. I wished I could rescue all of the cats, but one less cat on the streets – especially the one most in need – was better than rescuing none. We collectively decided if it was meant to be, she would be there.

Sure enough, when we got to the gate she was curled up in a ball staring into space. I picked her up, gently wrapping her in my cardigan, and we briskly walked back to the car. Elmo mewed and mewed as I walked, probably thinking ‘Where are you taking me?!’ but I calmly spoke to her, promising her if she just stayed in my arms she would have the best life ever.

We made it back to the car and Elmo’s good fate was sealed.

Elmo stank of fish. Her coat was greasy and covered in dirt, as were her little face and paws. Her ears were hairless – like a little bat, and were covered in scabs. She had a blocked nose from the cat flu and sneezed and coughed constantly.

Steve and my mam went out to get cat supplies while I stayed home with Elmo – who was still meowing in confusion at her new surroundings, but affectionate towards her captors none the less.

When they arrived back with food for Elmo she ate it so quickly – with one paw on top of the bowl, probably still fearing the other cats would come and eat it.

We got her a seat cushion to sleep on for the time being – and having only ever felt the hardness of concrete – she excitedly kneaded her new bed and purred like a jet engine.

Her vet appointment was made for a few days later, so in the meantime we made her as comfortable as possible and cleaned her up as much as we could.

Elmo’s cat flu gave her an awful runny blocked nose and made her sneeze green goo everywhere. It made us so sad to think of all that infection sitting on her little chest. We put an old sheet on our lap so she could snuggle up to us and when she purred in appreciation little snot bubbles would come out of her nose.

The vet told us Elmo had a bad case of ear mites – which is why they were so scabby and dirty inside – along with a heavy chest infection, fleas, and judging by her swollen little belly – worms too. He got some saline solution and wiped her face with the vigour we were afraid to, and a lot of the black on her little nose came off. He said we could keep using baby wipes to clean her coat while she was unwell, and to clean her eyes and nose daily with saline solution. She received medication for her parasites and fleas and was also put on antibiotics for her chest infection.

Twice a day we cleaned the coffee ground-like residue from Elmo’s ears with a q-tip and put an ointment in them – which she didn’t enjoy at all. I hoped she would understand we were doing it for her own good. We also found out her stinky fish smell was due to her chest infection and having to always breathe through her mouth, and the smell would fade as she got better (great news for everyone!)

Due to her size we estimated Elmo to be about 12 weeks old when we found her, but were suprised to learn from the vet that she must be nearly 6 months old – as she had all of her adult teeth. She was just so emaciated and malnourished that she looked far younger.

Elmo needed a lot of rest and TLC, and she got right to it.

After a few days of eating and medication, Elmo began to perk up a little and enjoy the kittenhood she had missed. She started to show interest in the toys we had got her, and loved playing with her blue ball of yarn the most.

The better in health that Elmo became, the more pride she was able to take in her appearance. No fish smell, no fleas. She began to clean herself regularly, and we started to see the beautiful little face and bright eyes hidden underneath all of the dirt.

Knowing how much cats enjoy being clean, you imagine how bad Elmo must have felt about herself being so unwell that she couldn’t maintain a clean coat.

Elmo couldn’t get her vaccinations until she was over her chest infection, and it took a long time to go. This meant she had to take a few different trips to the vet while we tried her on different kinds of medication.

Elmo did not like the vet.

As time passed Elmo got better and better. She put on weight and lost her ‘rat’ face, the hair on her ears began to grow back and the crusted skin began to heal. Her coat, which was once so greasy and dirty, coat was soft and clean.

Her playful personality began to show as she suddenly had all this newfound energy she didn’t know what to do with! Steve made her a kicker toy out of a black sock stuffed with newspaper, which she really enjoyed (and still enjoys) kicking the crap out of.

The memories of the sick little kitten seemed like ancient history as we quickly became acquainted with the cat Elmo always wanted to be. We found out a lot about Elmo.

Elmo likes her cat tower:

Elmo likes standing on her rear legs and looking over the balcony:

Elmo likes pawing at you from the washing basket:

And sitting on the washing basket:

Elmo likes biting any kind of string:

Elmo likes making her presence known at the dinner table:

Elmo likes having private Elmo time on the old rug behind the sweeping brush in the utility room:

Elmo likes sleeping like a bunny:

(Elmo likes sleeping in general)

Elmo likes making herself little blanket nests:

Or sharing a nap with you:

Cuddling up:

Nose kisses:

Playing around:

Pawing at keys:

Looking dapper:

Watching ‘How It’s Made’ on YouTube:

Cleaning her tail every single night (She takes huge pride in her tail):

And continuously pawing the plastic croissant that permanently sits on Steve’s bedside table onto the ground when she sees it:

She has serious beef with that croissant.

Giving Elmo the chance she needed in life was one of the best things we’ve ever done. Seeing her go from a frail, dirty kitten to a funny, playful and affectionate little cat brings us more happiness than any material object could.

She’s the best little pal you could ask for, and (bar the vet bills) all she cost was unconditonal love.

Thanks, little Elmo.

– Aisling Abbey


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