Rescued From a Construction Site, Gato Is Now Building a Better Life

April 20, 2023

“I was just so curious about him. I’ve never seen something like that,” says Juanita Acevedo when asked about her first meeting with a cat named Gato. Juanita is an Integrated Care Assistant (ICA) at the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center (ARC) in New York City, and though difficult cases are not uncommon at ARC, Gato tugged at her heartstrings. “I was playing with him at ARC and I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, the person that adopts him is going to have to be prepared for this.’ He was in very rough shape.”

Little did Juanita know, in just a few months’ time, she would end up being that person for the rescued cat.

Laying the Groundwork

In early May 2022, the NYPD rescued one-year-old Gato after he was found abandoned in a cat carrier on a construction site. Gato was emaciated and in poor condition, so he was quickly taken to ARC to receive immediate medical care.

Gato's intake photos

“He caught my attention the first day he came in,” says Juanita. “He was really skinny and had ear and skin infections. He also has cerebellar hypoplasia so he’s clumsy and lacks coordination.”

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a congenital developmental condition in which the cerebellum fails to develop properly. Because the cerebellum controls fine motor skills, balance and coordination, this painless condition causes jerky or uncoordinated walking, swaying from side to side when trying to walk and mild head tremors.

On top of his compromised motor skills, Gato was also diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a thickening of the left side of the heart which can disrupt blood flow, and anemia, a lack of healthy red blood cells.

Gato’s road to recovery was going to be long and his ailments would require long-term management, but luckily he had Juanita by his side.

“I would go visit him every day to have playtime,” says Juanita. “I felt so bad for him, I think that’s what made me get more attached. I asked a lot of our Lead Veterinary Technicians about his condition and if there was a cure. They said no and I started researching his condition. I wanted to know everything about him and what else I could do for him.”

Gato and Juanita

After two months of recovery, Gato was ready to go to a foster home. Even though she’s allergic to cats, had never had one before and never even thought about fostering one, Juanita was first in line.

“Fostering is the most important part of a shelter,” says Juanita. “The shelter is stressful. We are so busy, we have so many animals that we can’t focus on just one animal. They should have the opportunity to have that space and that love and that care that a foster home provides.”

Molding the Foundation

On July 3, Juanita brought Gato home for foster.

“To be honest, the first week was terrible,” Juanita tells us. “I was having such a bad time with my allergies. I was congested. One night I just sat in my bed and started crying because I loved him, but my health was really bad.”

Gato at home

After a week, Juanita decided to move Gato’s litterbox outside of her bedroom and began taking allergy medicine.

Soon, Juanita’s allergies subsided, and she was finally able to enjoy her time with Gato and make him as comfortable as possible in her apartment.

“I just gave him time and he gave me time to understand him,” explains Juanita.

She placed a carpet on her floor to help Gato’s stability when walking, she got raised bowls to make it easier for him to eat and she asked the ASPCA for pet stairs so that Gato could walk up to his favorite window and look out.

Gato on window sill and looking out

“The first time Gato used the pet stairs, I put some treats on the window,” remembers Juanita. “He took so long to get up—just thinking and thinking. When he made it up the stairs we were so proud, we were cheering for him!”

Gato walking on pet stairs

At this point in their journey together, Juanita was completely in love with Gato, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to adopt him. Caring for a cat with medical conditions can be expensive, and while Gato currently didn’t need any treatment or medication, that’s not to say he might not in the future. Juanita also loves to travel and wasn’t sure if she could continue to do so after adopting Gato.

While Juanita remained unsure of their future together, Gato was made available for adoption to the public.

“He is such a fun cat; he’ll make you laugh from the moment you wake up! So I thought he was going to be adopted so fast,” explains Juanita. “The Adoption Center was asking me for photos and videos of him and every time I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, what if he does get adopted?’”

Gato laying and peeking under bed skirt

But after two months, Gato was still available.

“I thought: this is enough, this cat is mine. It’s meant to be,” Juanita tells us. “I was laying on my bed and he was on his window, and we looked at each other and I’m like, ‘I promise I’m going to take care of you,’ and I promised that to myself too. The next day I adopted him.”

The Ultimate Renovation

It has been seven months since Juanita officially adopted Gato and we are so proud to report that he is a completely different cat since officially settling in.

“His soul hasn’t changed,” says Juanita, “But he’s more confident. He’s a strong cat now and he’s so happy. He loves attention, eating, other animals, he’s so curious and I don’t think he’s scared of anything.”

In just two weeks, the wobbly cat learned how to jump onto Juanita’s bed and now confidently jumps onto the couch.

Juanita and Gato on bed

“We are so connected that I don’t think I ever want to be without him,” says Juanita. “He’s part of my house, he’s part of my life and he’s perfect! He’s like my son and I want to take him everywhere with me. I want to take him in those backpacks to the park and hiking and traveling. I just want to be with him all the time.”

“He changed my life in every sense,” Juanita adds. “Every time I wake up, I know he's going to be outside waiting. I know now that somebody depends on me and that I have to be there. Not only that I have to be there but I want to be there, that makes a big difference. I have a purpose now, a different purpose. We all have a purpose to go to work and that stuff, but taking care of an animal like Gato, an animal that I fostered first and realized I wanted to be with him, that I needed him in my life. That changed everything, it changed the whole game.”

Juanita and Gato