When Paul Russell was checking in on an elderly relative, he never thought he’d be walking into a scene out of the movies. In fact, Paul said what he encountered was straight from the movie Alien. And an “alien” would be the best way to describe it, because he had never seen anything else like it. But when Paul later found out what it really was, and how it got that way, he thought the doctors had lost their minds.
At 82 years-old, Paul Russell’s Alzheimer’s-stricken distant relative had just begrudgingly moved out of his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. The man, who “doesn’t know anybody anymore,” had been living on his own until his illness made it impossible for him to take care of himself. To better keep an eye on him, his family moved him to a nursing home that was closer to their place. While this was clearly the best thing for the man, little did his family know, moving him out would set off a chain of events too weird to imagine.
Controversially, the nursing home did not permit any animals on the premises. Sadly that meant Siam, the man’s beloved 17-year-old Siamese cat, had to be left behind. This is where Paul jumped at the opportunity to help. Paul and his wife, self-described animal lovers, already had a few cats. So what’s one more? Well, as Paul was soon to find out, Siam wasn’t the only “animal” being left behind.
Animals make incredible companions for the elderly. In fact, most doctors agree that pet ownership in your golden years comes with a ton of benefits like stress reduction and lower blood pressure. However, as they age, the elderly tend to have a much harder time taking care of themselves, let alone their pets. Dogs stop going out and can become aggressive. Cats become obese. And when Alzheimer’s is thrown into the mix?
Due to the man living on the fringes of Pittsburgh, he had been living alone in a gradually deteriorating state for quite some time. Without proper assistance, poor Siam’s health went from bad to worse. So when Paul decided to check in on Siam, he had expected to find a bit of chaos – as anyone would. But never in a million years would he have ever expected to walk into this.
When Paul opened the door, it became immediately clear that he was the first person to set foot in there for quite some time. Upon entering the house, Paul was stunned by a disaster scene straight out of “Hoarders.” Nothing was where it should have been and little scratch marks could be found all over the place. What’s worse, Siam was nowhere to be found. What happened here?
“The house was still open,” he said, “so I went down and left some food for the cat until we figured out what we’re going to do.” But strangely, Siam didn’t come running when he filled his bowl. After calling his name for several minutes, Paul’s heart sunk. He began sifting through the messy house, praying to find Siam alive. And while it was practically impossible to actually see the cat, he did hear some low “cat-like” growls coming from the other room.
After rummaging through clusters of boxes, he ended up finding Siam camped out in the bathroom tub. The little guy was ravenously hungry. Who knows when Siam last had a decent meal. Paul began thinking about what he was going to do with Siam, he heard something that made his blood run cold.
That same low scratchy growl could be heard echoing from the cellar across the hall. But if the cat was in here with him, then what was out there making that sound? As an animal-lover, Paul had a sixth-sense for animals in danger. He knew it was probably just a scared raccoon that made its way into the abandoned house. That would explain why Siam was hunkered down in the tub, right? So after a deep breath, he descended down into the cellar.
While most of us would probably just take Siam and run, thankfully Paul’s cat-like curiously got the best of him. “I started searching around, and suddenly this huge creature darts out from under the bed and runs down to the cellar, and I thought, ‘What was that?’” Unwilling to find out, Paul darted straight out of the house. He’d need to muster every ounce of courage he had before going back in for a closer look.
“At first, I thought it was a cat that had a blanket on top of it,” Paul recalled. He knew that there was only one way to really find out. “The next day, I went into the creepy old cellar… I’m down there with a flashlight looking — it was almost like a horror movie. And I found her hunkering in the corner. I thought, ‘My god this IS a cat.’” In an instant, Paul and his wife Jill rushed the poor creature to the vet.
The cat, aptly named Hidey due to its affinity for hiding, was trapped under pounds and pounds of its own matted fur. Sadly, its 82 year-old owner had completely forgotten about HIdey for a very, very long time. “Hidey was really overweight, so that makes it harder for [cats] to groom themselves, and that’s when you see matting happen,” Western PA Humane Society Senior Marketing Communications Manager Caitlin Lasky said. But how could they safely remove the cat’s “dreadlocks?”
The vet team was stunned at Hidey’s appearance. “They hadn’t seen anything like that,” Caitlin Lasky, senior marketing communications manager for Western PA Humane Society, said. “Even looking online, I had a hard time finding anything similar, so it’s definitely a unique case.” There really is the only way to rescue a cat in this condition: you have to shave it all off. But the team couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. After putting Hidey under general anesthesia, they carefully began cutting away at the mass.
“Our Medical team shaved off the pounds of intertwined fur from her body and, needless to say, this cat is feeling so much better now!” read the the shelter’s Facebook post. The fur had accumulated up to two pounds in weight! “Lots of fur. It had to be years of matting for it to get that long.” In fact, Hidey turned out to be not just the hairiest cat in history but also one of the fattest. And now Hidey had an even bigger problem: she had no place to call home.
Thankfully, after Hidey was discharged from the vet hospital, Paul and his wife decided to take both Hidey and Siam in. Both felines now have a forever home with the Russells, and instant siblings in the couple’s three other cats and two dogs. It will take more time to see who Hidey really is, but she’s slowly adjusting to life without pounds of overgrown fur. She may not realize it yet, but she finally has a chance at a happy and healthy life! But could Hidey ever trust humans again?
After years of neglect, it’s clearly going to take some time for her to settle in. “She’s been hiding under the bed for the last couple of days,” Russell said. “I’ve been dragging her out, and holding her, and she purrs a lot. The last couple of days, she’s climbed out from under the bed on her own and into a cat bed I have. So she’s starting to work her way to see people more.”
“The companionship of a pet can bring many positive benefits to the elderly, however, owning a pet is a large responsibility,” said Dan Rossi, CEO of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and the Western PA Humane Society. “If a family member, friend or neighbor owns a pet, please help them to make sure there is a support system in place if/when mental faculties begin diminishing. Also, open door shelters such as Animal Rescue League Shelter and the Western PA Humane Society do not turn any animal away if there are no other options for the pet.”
It will take more time to see who Hidey really is, but she’s slowly adjusting to life without pounds of overgrown fur. “Other than being standoffish, you hold her and she starts purring,” Russell adds. Jill thinks there’s much more in store for Hidey in 2018. “In six months she’ll be running the house,” she says. “And hopefully she’ll be a little trimmer.” Thank goodness someone finally realized Hidey was suffering under all that fur! Hopefully, this story will help prevent other incidents of accidental pet neglect among the elderly.