“I probably wouldn’t be in this world if it wasn’t for that cat,” says Juerena McCuellegan.

Four years ago, McCuellegan, a Veterinary Technician, was working in the emergency room of VCA Columbia Animal Hospital at Centre Park in Columbia, MD when a tiny orange kitten was brought into the hospital due to a leg injury requiring amputation. 

“He was in a home and I believe a housemate pounced on him and hurt him pretty severely,” says Dr. Candice Watts, “and they couldn't afford to take care of him.” Because of this, it was likely he would end up in a shelter and potentially even euthanized.

When McCuellegan arrived to work that day, her coworkers told her she had to go see the kitten they brought in. McCuellegan was adamant she was not getting another cat. “I already had two cats and a one-bedroom apartment,” says McCuellegan, “and I already had said in the beginning that I'd never have more than one cat in a one-bedroom apartment and I wound up getting another cat.

Still, she went over to look at the kitten, appropriately named Lieutenant Dan – a reference to a character in Forrest Gump who loses his legs. “So I went over to the cage and when I opened it, he was at the back end lying down and he looked at me and literally ran over, like hobbled over with his little funky chicken leg and he clung to my chest and started crying,” says McCuellegan. “At that moment, my heart just broke.”

At that time, McCuellegan notes that she was dealing with some mental health issues. “I really needed something. Like you know you need something, but you don't know you need something… so I was like, I'm going to take this as a sign. I feel something from this. Let me go ahead and take him.”

“Juerena having the giant heart that she does took one look at him and couldn't leave him be,” says Dr. Watts. “She couldn’t let him go to a shelter scenario or where he would be put down because he had something that was fixable. He was traumatized, but he was fixable. She got him the care that he needed.”
“Be willing to give the non-babies [older cats] a chance because there are a lot of sweethearts who land in that scenario through no fault of their own, and they just need another chance. ”
To most pets, losing a leg is not a big deal, once they get past that initial injury. Now with McCuellegan deciding to take him in and cover his surgery costs, they could move forward with the amputation. Although there was a scare through the night, thanks to the vet technician on hand, Lieutenant Dan made it through the surgery and recovered quickly. Thanks to the team at VCA Columbia, the cat not only received the emergency care he needed, but ongoing care and support for his specially-abled future.

“Everyone says that their cat is special. I get it,” says McCuellegan. “But he is legit one of a kind. He is very attentive to your emotions and what's going on. He's always there even if you don't need him, and especially when you do need him. He’s also so goofy and talented; he knows how to shake, he'll give paw, he'll twirl, he knows how to sit, and he high-fives as well.”

That’s not all McCuellegan has gained from having Lieutenant Dan in her life. She says the biggest impact has been more genuine compassion and a real understanding of unconditional love. “They love and love and love. It doesn’t matter what they’ve been through, they give the love and they’re just there.”

She wasn’t the only one that saw the emotional benefit of a cat. “We certainly saw an uptick in adopted kittens since COVID, when everyone's like, ‘I need an animal to help me stay at home,” says Dr. Watts. 

Unfortunately, many of the older cats aren’t adopted as readily, though Dr. Watts urges people looking to adopt to consider them. “Be willing to give the non-babies a chance because there are a lot of sweethearts who land in that scenario through no fault of their own, and they just need another chance. They need someone who's willing to take a chance on them and give them time to acclimate to a new home environment, which is hard sometimes, but the rewards are definitely worth it.”

McCuellegan echoes the need for patience with new cats, and to consider the financial cost that comes with having a pet. “Put a lot of thought into it because they put a lot, a lot of time, effort, and love into us. I feel that I want to be able to reciprocate what's being given to me, even for the angry kitties. I love them too. It's an important decision, but it is saving a life.”

June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month.  At VCA Animal Hospitals, we’re proud to support a nationwide shelter network of over 150 trusted partners. Find a shelter near you!