Kathleen Bub cares for a domestic medium hair called British Petroleum, or BP for short. The cat’s moniker tells of his history — a near-fatal dousing in car oil. More obliquely, it references the five million gallons of spilled oil that ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2010, right after BP’s rescue. His name symbolizes devastating human folly, intentional or accidental.
“God knows what abuse he survived,” says Bub. When she first received BP, the crude coating had burned his skin and gnarled his coat. And since he was a grizzled 12- to 14-years-old, some vets would have considered euthanasia. But Dr. Patrick McKee of Apple Valley Animal in Hendersonville, BP’s initial rescuer, knew Bub had something different in mind.
“No one else would’ve helped him,” she says. And so, BP found a place to laze alongside fellow pets rendered hard-to-adopt because of age or disability.
Despite also testing positive for feline immunodeficiency virus, a highly contagious condition in cats, BP was offered another chance. As were 179 other creatures of a certain age living on Forever Farm, a cage-free sanctuary established in 2005 as part of Bub’s nonprofit, Friends For Life.
The 10-acre parcel in Lake Toxaway is not a traditional farm — heirloom crops don’t flank the property, and modular cottages are the outbuildings of choice, not greenhouses. But Bub and ten other staff members operate on a similar premise.
Here, in grassy parcels and on sun-soaked porches, there’s an emphasis on growth.
“Everyone is a success story,” says Bub, who holds a Masters degree in Animal Physiology. Four-legged critters placed with Friends For Life often suffer from typical older-animal issues such as deafness, mobility issues, cancer, heartworm, or a combination of the above. For those healthy enough, however, rehabilitation is always considered.
Broken Kitty, an orange tomcat, found the Forever Farm after being hit by a car. Dr. Tami Shearer in Sylva patched him back together, but was forced to wire his jaw after a second collision on the mountain back road. Bub agreed to take the then-blind cat. His bad eye abscesses and festers, but that doesn’t stop him from mewing in Bub’s back bedroom. “He’s been a struggle,” she admits. “But BK is very special.”
Clydette is an old mountain cur — a Plott hound/feist mix whose breed was originally bred to hunt squirrels in Central Appalachia — who’s also taken up residence in Bub’s personal home, where her noisy baying drowns out the high-pitched yaps of a Chiweenie (a chihuahua/dachshund mix), made portly by too much human food. Rather than furtive under-the-table nibbles, her former owner, an older man with Alzheimer’s, would dish out entire lunch plates. She doubled her size and almost died of kidney failure.
“I got the weight off her,” Bub says. “She’s doing just fine.”
Five horses, four bottle-raised pygmy goats, and two hogs named Pixie and Abraham also neigh, bleat, and snort around the farm; the operation survives financially from one late supporter’s generous bequest, and through ongoing donations. Some animals will move onto more private residences. For now, a number of animals up for adoption, mostly cats and dogs, are featured on Friends For Life’s website. But for many inhabitants, the ranch is a final resting place.
And that’s the hardest part, beyond time-intensive chores that include scooping out 50 litter boxes. Caring for senior and special-needs animals invites heartbreak. “They become like our own,” she says. “But when the time comes, they need to go.”
Staff members are currently preparing for the worst with an 18-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse named Sevwyon. Some years ago, an ill-suited owner didn’t understand how to care for a horse’s teeth, and despite living on a pasture with hay and water, Sevwyon had one hoof in the grave. After a little equine TLC, he looked to be on the mend, but vets recently found a thyroid tumor that’s fast metastasizing. A round of antibiotics reduced some inflammation, but his condition is still uncertain.
“We gave him a few extra years,” Bub says solemnly. She’s always had a soft spot for horses. Before moving to the mountains, she and her late husband, Ralph, a professor of agriculture at Clemson University, bought a 40-acre plot in Upstate South Carolina. They raised Walkers, a gaited plantation horse popular in shows, and pastured veal, though Bub has since stopped consuming most meat.
“I have to admit I did this at one time,” she says. “I did it until I couldn’t stand sending the babies to the butcher anymore.”
Even before then, she had a fondness for steppers. As a child, she began saving pennies to purchase a horse. Her mother gave it little thought, dismissing Bub’s tendency to harbor cats and dogs, or anything else allowed in her Lake Erie-area home, as a youthful passing fancy. “‘Oh,’” she would say. “‘You’ll grow out of it.’”
But miles and decades separate Bub from that Northern Ohio childhood, and her penchant for four-legged critters has manifested into a legacy. “Most shelters have to overlook the poor, old guys,” says Bub. “They get left behind.”
As for BP, however, he got his ruddy fur back, and a forever home in the bargain.
The Case for Older Pets
Blue Ridge Humane Society strives to place every animal in the right Hendersonville home, even the older cats and dogs some deem unadoptable. But finding a willing owner is taxing all the same, says Executive Director Lutrelle O’Cain.
For the elderly critters, the shelter highlights personality traits. Rainy days may make a hoary hound’s joints ache, but he’ll still make for a great couch potato. Though more aloof, seasoned cats are contented with a simple climbing tower and are especially great sidekicks in retirement facilities.
Here, companionship offsets the challenges — dental work, prescriptions, and tests. Just as with their two-legged counterparts, pets with accumulated years are prone to ailments including compromised vision and limited mobility. BRHS sets aside $125,000 in their annual budget just to address these medical expenses.
Yet that shouldn’t scare adopters away. Age need not give someone paws, notes O’Cain. “Senior animals suit senior humans,” she says. “The owner will be on a walker in a nursing home, and the dog will be happy to trail closely behind.”
Friends For Life Forever Farm is located at 405 Reid Siding Road in Lake Toxaway. For more information, visit friendsforlifeforeverfarm.org, call 828-966-3956, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Blue Ridge Humane Society shelter is located at 88 Centipede Lane, Hendersonville. Call 828-685-7107 or visit www.blueridgehumane.org for more info and to search for adoptable pets.