Tigger the cat just celebrated his 22nd birthday wearing a dapper bow tie and festive hat — and sharing a three-meat cake with a feline brother named Stuart.
Tigger was lovingly tended to by his adoptive parents, former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Adriene Buisch and her boyfriend, Michael Trentadue, who are determined to make every remaining day of this his life something to purr about.
It's remarkable to see a cat enjoy his nine lives for so long, all the more so because this particular feline was abandoned after two decades.
Tigger's former owner dropped him off at a Maryland animal hospital in 2014, then never came back to get him.
"Day by day, week by week, the owner slowly lost contact with the hospital," Buisch told TODAY in an email. "She would promise to be there the next day and then they wouldn't hear from her for weeks. Eventually they lost all contact."
It was early 2015 when Buisch and Trentadue found out about Tigger's plight. They were on the hunt for a new companion for Stuart and were contemplating getting a kitten, but were moved by the cat's heartbreaking story.
"Next thing you know I'm calling the hospital ...and heading up there the very next day," Buisch, 32, said. "We figured we might as well give an old cat a comfy home for his remaining life while seeing how Stuart does with another cat."
Tigger was matted and frail when the veterinary technician brought into the room to meet Buisch and Trentadue.
"Michael and I looked at each other and immediately said we were taking him home," said Buisch.
Tigger's happy adoption was followed by bad news: He had kidney failure — irreversible, but manageable with a prescription diet and medicine. And then one day, as Trentadue, 40, was brushing Tigger, he discovered a large tumor on the cat's belly. Because of his age and kidney problems, surgery was ruled out
"We had no idea if we would have another month or another year with Tigger," said Buisch.
So she and Trentadue set out with extra determination to fill the feline's twilight days with love and adventure.
Lately, Tigger gets ferried around the family's hometown of Baltimore in a cat-carrying sling, and has become a local celebrity. He's famous further afield, too. Photos of Tigger's walk on a beach last year went viral, melting the hearts of cat lovers the world over, who have since been following the charismatic feline on his Facebook page and showering Tigger with treats, blankets, beds and homemade catnip toys.
Through all the gifts, his family has learned Tigger is not a big fan of the catnip toys — but he loves the boxes they come in. So this past fall, Buisch and Trentadue arranged for a shoot with pet photographer Heidi Moore Trasatti (and it turns out the senior catizen is quite the ham).
Trasatti created all kinds of cardboard sculptures for Tigger to play around with — a hot air balloon, a throne, a boat — and lured him into exploring them with yummy treats.
"Tigger's favorite sculpture was probably the television set, with the throne as a close second. But honestly, Tigger seemed content with anything that involved chicken," said Trasatti.
Buisch and Trentadue don't know how much time they still have with Tigger. His tumor has gotten bigger, but he's put on weight — a good sign of health — and he seems to feel well.
So this past weekend, for his 22nd birthday party, Buisch and Trentadue treated Tigger to a tuna, chicken, and ham birthday cake, which he readily shared with Stuart. The two gobbled up the treat and then went into what Buisch describes as a "purring meat coma."
Once Tigger's belly was full of his favorite foods, his adoring parents set out to "smother him with love," said Buisch.
"When you have a cat like Tigger that had a home for 19 years to end up sitting in a cold cage for a year, it was like he was broken when we got him," she said. "Now we get to watch him enjoy life to the very end."