I am very excited to feature a cat named Xander for this extended and special edition of Let’s Talk About Your Cat.
A huge thank you goes out to Xander’s pet mom Rachel Gruen for allowing me to share his inspiring story with others.
Q What are your cats/names/age/color/breed
Joey male buff tabby 3 years old; Delilah female tortoiseshell calico 5 years old; Xander male black 4 years old; and Skyler male gray tabby 2 years old – all domestic short hairs.
Q What is your first memory or experience with cats?
RG My family had cats throughout my young childhood, then had to stop because I developed a cat allergy. Fortunately I just take allergy medicine now to manage it, and I’m fine!
Q Describe your cats personalities
RG Joey is Xander’s mentor, he looks to him for everything and is his shadow! Delilah is Joey’s biological mom and the adoptive mom of the other two. Xander spent his first three years in a research lab, he has been free since January 2014 and is so resilient and such a love. Skylar was the first one to make friends with Xander, his best friend and main play-wrestling opponent.
Xander looks out an open window for the first time
Q How did your cats come into your life?
RG In 2011 I finally got an apartment where I could have cats! I walked around the cat room at the Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT) open-intake shelter, and Delilah was there with Joey. Skyler was a feral kitten who got trapped on my sunken-in patio in fall 2012, he was terrified of people but the vet I took him to taught me how to wrap him in a towel to make him feel safe. I found Xander when I was on a vegetarian recipe site and saw a link to Beagle Freedom Project’s (BFP) most recent beagle rescue. I was not looking for another cat, but when I saw that this rescue was five cats, which is VERY unusual, I just had to click the story.
Once I saw Xander’s handsome black fur and yellow eyes, I just fell in love with him. I filled out an adoption application, and even though they have rescues all over the country, he happened to be just two hours away! It was fate. I met him at his foster home in March 2014, and he climbed onto my lap, the only time he has ever done that…he chose me too.
Q How was it to watch the video of Xander taking his first steps of freedom after the lab?
RG Honestly, watching that video and seeing him slink out of the carrier, nervous and unsure, is what really grabbed my heart. I just knew that I was meant to be his mom and ensure that he never had to be scared like that again. Xander was named Jax, but I changed it to Xander because it means “defender of all,” and I consider him a defender of all lab animals. It made me more determined to make every second of his free life the best that it can be.
Xander and his foster-sister Shira, another BFP rescue from his lab. Very sadly, Shira passed away in the summer from a sudden and unexpected seizure
Q What if any issues does Xander have as a result of his former life?
RG When Xander first came home with me, I noticed that he spent a lot of time staring into his water dish and at blank spaces on the wall. He also cocked his head in this adorable but very un-cat-like way whenever I came into the room—like a puppy putting its head to the side, which I have never seen a cat do before. Because of these behaviors, I think he may have been used for neurological research. However, it is also possible that those are just some unique mannerisms that he picked up because he lived for three years in a restrictive lab environment. Interestingly, both of those behaviors have since greatly decreased, so either his brain has recovered from the trauma done to it or he has learned that he does not have to act that way and can just be a normal, calm house cat in a very safe place.
He also did not wash his face after he ate—a sign that he was taken away from his mom when he was too young, fortunately he has an awesome cat family that taught him about normal cat hygiene, and he was a very quick study! Also, his paw pads became cracked after a few days, and I had to find a cruelty-free paw butter to use which worked like magic. This could be a result of what was done to him in the lab or because he was not used to running and playing so much, and his paws had to toughen up…I think it’s probably the latter. Fortunately he has great house cat paw pads now. 🙂
He has also learned that there is plenty of time for snuggles—when he first came, he never wanted me to put him down, to the point that he put his paws on either side of my neck and pulled himself up to be carried around! He is very strong! He would also move my hand with his paws to make sure I petted him and rub against me the whole time I was with him. He was just so starved for attention. Now he is more catlike in that he wants to be petted on his time, and sometimes he wants me to leave him alone and let him watch birds and bugs! He has learned to nurture his true feline nature.
Q What have been some of the best moments with Xander?
RG Honestly, the best moments are the little ones—when I first held him in my arms, and then the first time that he pushed away from me to be put down…I know that might sound strange, but he was so used to being manhandled and used for experimentation that at first he was not a normal cat, as he would just go limp in my arms as if resigned to whatever was going to happen to him. The first time he told me that he was ready to be put down, I was THRILLED! It has been amazing to see his true independent cat streak emerge. I love how playful he is—he is kittenish even though he turned four; he has a lot of time to make up for! I adore when we are having a quiet night at home and he is snuggling with his brothers, grooming them, and/or play-fighting with them. I also love walking around the house, just cuddling him, hearing his purrs, being SO thankful that he is free and that he is mine. He has truly brought so much to all of our lives.
Q After all Xander has been through, to see him trust a human shows the capacity that animals have to forgive. What have these qualities taught you?
RG I am so humbled by it. The fact that for his entire life he was used and abused by humans for their own means, never given a choice in the matter, and yet he is still the most loving of all of my cats toward visitors to the house…it truly shows how intelligent, resilient, and good-natured cats are, especially him. He also teaches me to be present in each moment, because he is—he does not even think about his bad days, he is so focused on his good life now. I have also learned in running his Facebook page that there are SO many compassionate people in the world. It truly restores your faith in humanity!
Q If people reading this only take two things away from Xander’s story what would you like them to be?
RG To always choose education and awareness over ignorance, particularly when it comes to animal testing. Buying cruelty-free items and sharing Xander’s story really does make a true and genuine difference. I have always loved all animals, not just cats, which is a big part of why I have been a vegetarian for a decade and vegan since this summer. Deciding to live a completely humane and compassionate lifestyle has been a great choice for me.
Finally, the depths of forgiveness, gentleness, love, curiosity, and hope that I have seen in Xander and learned from him have been astounding. He never looks back, I know that he does not live with regret, fear, or pain, even when he remembers what happened to him in the lab. That only makes him appreciate his free life more. He is a survivor in the truest sense of the word, and not only that, he is thriving in his new life, enriching the lives of his cat family, me, and everyone whose heart he touches with his story.
For more Xander be sure to follow Xander the Rescued Lab Cat on Facebook
Xander’s story is not unique, it is estimated that between “20,000 and 25,000 cats are used in research labs in the US every year.” Source American Anit-Vivisection Society
In 2011 in Canada it is estimated that “6,220 cats were reported used in research” Source Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)
Suggested resources on the topic
- Humane Society International and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- How to help end cosmetic testing in the USA
- Cosmetic testing policies in Canada – CFHS
- Pets in research Animal Alliance of Canada and Pound seizures
- Project Jessie Canadian rescue network for lost, stray and abandoned cats and dogs in pounds where they are vulnerable to being sold for research.
- Canadian stats for cats (and other animals) used in research CCAC
- UK information Animal Testing and Animal Aid
- Shopping Cruelty Free certified Leaping Bunny