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40-pound cat Patches now has food, exercise plan; feline is not 'voracious, vacuum cleaner eater,' owner says

Kay Ford: 'The cat needs help, I can help and I want to help'
Patches the Cat
Posted at 3:09 PM, Apr 29, 2023

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — The answer as to how Kay Ford came to have a 40-pound cat camped out in her kitchen pantry began about three years ago when she saw a post on social media about an extremely large cat in Pennsylvania that was up for adoption.

“I have to have this fat cat,” she recalled saying. “I just have to.”

Why?

“I couldn’t tell you,” she said. “I just remember thinking, ‘I can help this cat.’”

Distance prevented her from pursuing that adoption, but her fascination with the big cat lived on in family lore.

Which is the background to the text Ford received from her daughter, Kelly:

“This is your moment.”

Attached to the text was a Facebook post from Richmond Animal Care and Control, featuring a photo of a smiling shelter employee, her arms overflowing with an enormous cat. The headline read: “Adopt Patches Today!”

“I always do what I’m told,” Ford said with a laugh while Patches sauntered slowly but surely around the living room of her Mechanicsville home.

The image of Patches and his enormous girth made him a social media sensation. People are naturally drawn to the plight of animals in a bad way, and 6-year-old Patches was in a bad way, carrying around almost triple his normal weight and having been surrendered by his previous owner who could no longer care for him.

As Patches’ picture was shared around the world and the story of this sweet but corpulent cat went viral, the Richmond animal shelter received emails from as far away as California from people wanting to help.

In the end, Patches went home with Ford, who showed up at the shelter, fell in love with the cat and wants to give him a nice, long life.

“The cat needs help, I can help and I want to help,” said Ford, who identified herself to me after I reached out to her as “the daffodil lady’s daughter.” I wrote about her mother, Margaret Ford, several times over the years, most recently after she died in 2019.

“Sometimes you have to set aside thinking about the pros and cons of things and just jump into the deep end of the pool, and that’s exactly what I did. I just knew I wanted to do this.”

Patches showed up at RACC on April 4, weighing a little over 40 pounds; a Domestic Shorthair, he should weigh no more than 15 pounds, said Robin Young, RACC’s outreach coordinator.

There was good news: Blood tests came back normal, not indicating diabetes, thyroid problems or other issues that might have been suspected for a cat so dangerously obese.

Thing was, though, Young said Patches was a “slightly picky eater” at the shelter, during which he began to lose weight. Ford has found the same thing.

“He is not a voracious eater,” she said. “He’s not scarfing it up.”

She’s not concerned about how Patches became this heavy.

“There is nothing we can do to change how he got here,” she said, “but there’s a lot we can do from here forward, and that’s what I am here for.”

Ford has been giving Patches a combination of wet and dry food, but she’s not starving him in an attempt to get him to lose weight. The safest approach, she said, is for Patches to lose between a half-pound and a pound per month; this will not be a quick fix, though she is resolved to see it through. Ford said she gained weight during the pandemic that she’d like to lose, too, so she’ll be right there with him.

Ford also is encouraging Patches to walk and play, but in short increments. He’s so big, he can only walk a short distance before having to rest. He requires a wide turning radius simply to change directions.

The idea of exercise is a noble one, but, you know, this is a cat; he’ll exercise when he wants. But Patches has enjoyed walking around the house at his own pace and lying at the back door, watching the world go by outside. He has shown interest in his toys, as well as his new siblings: Wellesley, a 2-year-old, fellow Domestic Shorthair who, though full-grown, looks like a miniature version of Patches; and Bella, an exceedingly friendly 13-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, who according to Ford, “loves all life forms.”

Suddenly the little brother “in every sense of the word,” Ford said, Wellesley is “a bit needy and a big jealous.” She has no doubt he’ll come around.

“They’re all going to be good friends,” she said.

As someone who has had cats and dogs her entire life, Ford, a retired business owner, had an inkling of the time and work that will be required to nurture Patches back to health, but what she completely missed until she got Patches home was the social media hoopla surrounding him.

Now that she can see the whole picture, it makes perfect sense to her, but she had been so focused on simply adopting him that she wasn’t aware of the outside world.

But with a background in advertising and public relations, it has not taken her long to catch up. She has done interviews with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today,” the Washington Post, the New York Post, People and PBS. She said that people had reached out to her from Ukraine, Taiwan and a morning show in Australia. Her phone pinged every few minutes.

She created a Facebook page — Patches’ Journey — that in less than a week has attracted more than 9,000 followers. She is keeping followers updated on Patches’ progress through pictures and videos and posts written from Patches’ perspective.

Ford really hasn’t thought through what, if anything, she wants to do with Patches’ new platform, other than to keep people informed about Patches — she has set up a post office box to receive “fan mail” that followers on Facebook say they want to send — and to support RACC, where her family has now adopted four animals over the years.

For its part, RACC is sharing links to other available animals in hopes of encouraging more adoptions.

“Many shelters are in crisis mode and full, so we hope all the interest in Patches will create more adoptions for animals in need,” said RACC’s Young.

Next up for Patches: a visit to Wellesley Animal Hospital in Short Pump, where Ford has been taking her pets for years. She plans to carry Patches from the parking lot into the office in a little red wagon.

As Ford sat on the sofa gently stroking Patches, she talked about sensing when she first met him that “there’s a personality in there waiting to come out once he’s more mobile.” Ford said she looks forward to the day when Patches will be doing “zoomies” around the floor.

But Patches, who can’t move anywhere quickly, is still a couple of years away from the possibility of any zoomies.

“That will be a fun day when that happens,” Ford said. “Whatever it takes, it will happen. I know it will. Sometimes you just have to have faith that things will just work out.”

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