Meow was a curiosity of a cat.
In his five years, he went from mooching a home with a Pierce County transplant in Roswell, N.M., to making global headlines.
Meow was, as those headlines repeated, the “Famed obese New Mexico cat.” In April, he was turned in to the Roswell animal shelter weighing 39 pounds. From there, he was sent to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.
Charmed by his mighty purr and alarmed by his mightier girth, staff there saw a lofty purpose in Meow: They cast him as a spokescat against pet obesity.
They put him on a diet and told the media he was between two and five years old. They said he had been turned in by an elderly woman who had overfed him and could no longer care for him. When he had slimmed down to 37 pounds, they crated him up and flew him to New York City to do the talk and morning news shows.
The conversation about a house cat rumored to be the heaviest on the planet grew wings. Reporters, celebrities and bloggers used Meow’s weight as an opportunity to spout screeds against his owner, with forays into assumptions, prejudice, even politics.
Meanwhile, Marie Cavelti Stewart of Graham, the one person who knew and could tell Meow’s tale, was shuttling between the South Sound and Roswell. She was caring for her dying sister, placing her failing mother in a nursing home and grieving.
When she caught up with Meow’s story, the incivility and inaccuracy of the comments horrified her.
She called Santa Fe to tell shelter staff members the real story.
Meow adopted her mother five years ago, not two.
“My mother loved gardening and was out planting iris bulbs when this little thing brushed against her.” Stewart said. “He was just a butterball.”
Her mother looked for his owner, then took him in for his shots. When Meow got a urinary tract infection a few months later, the vet put him on the special dry cat food diet he followed all his life. He got half a cup, no more, daily, and drank only bottled water.
When he got huge, her mother took him to the veterinarian for tests, which showed no abnormalities.
“You’ve just got a big cat on your hands,” the vet said.
To correct the coverage and put a lid on nasty comments, Stewart told the story to www.catster.com. It had little effect.
The kindest commenters called her 119-pound mother an indulgent, misguided owner. The worst painted her as an obese welfare recipient tossing hot dogs at her victimized cat.
The New York Post, where apparently no one has a cat, reported that Meow, freed from that abuse, “struggled to pare off the pounds.”
Untroubled by it all, Meow went to a foster home in Santa Fe. There, on May 5, despite vets’ best efforts, he died of respiratory failure.
In Toronto, The Globe and Mail headlined the story “Fat cat hugged by Anderson Cooper dies.”
Back home in Graham, Stewart does not think that’s the end of Meow’s story.
“I’m a Christian,” she said. “I truly believe that cat was placed on this Earth for a reason. I have gotten over 500 emails from people all across the country and India, Brazil, Africa, Australia, Sweden. People have written that they have a different attitude about people who are overweight. They have different attitudes about how they treat their own animals. Some of them get real personal about how this cat has made them stop and think. They are angry about some of the ridicule, and he’s made them stop before they do that.”
She’s not silly enough to think Meow would have wanted that civility.
But Stewart wants it from everyone – from pet owners to politicians.
“I would like to see people think twice before pointing a finger. Know the truth before you say something nasty.”
We expect more of our children, she pointed out.
Come to think of it, we expect more of our firstname.lastname@example.org