It was a hot summer day when Jessica Johnson exited a Manhattan subway station. She heard a faint cry. “It sounded like it was coming from a nearby garbage can,” recalls Jessica. “Then my eye caught a plastic bag rolling around on the street.” She lifted the bag and peeked inside. A newborn orange-and-white kitten, with his eyes still closed and umbilical cord still attached, continued to mew. “He couldn’t separate himself from the bag and was so small,” says Jessica. “It makes me so sad to think someone threw him out.”
Jessica, a graduate student working on a dual Master’s degree in social work and public health at Columbia University, postponed her orientation that day and instead walked the tiny kitten to a nearby veterinary clinic. The clinic turned them away, so Jessica hailed a cab and headed to the ASPCA, holding the kitten in a box. “He kept climbing out and tried to nurse on my hand,” she says.
At the ASPCA, Jessica relinquished her tiny charge to Stephen Cameron, Coordinator of Admission and Foster Programs, and said she’d be willing to adopt the kitten once he was healthy and ready. The day-old kitten was named Ultimo and placed in the ASPCA’s Kitten Nursery. Ultimo was one of nearly 1,700 kittens who entered the Nursery in 2018.
Jessica phoned nursery staff every few weeks to check on Ultimo. By early October, after he started eating solid food, Ultimo went home with David Santiago, an ASPCA foster who has worked in the Nursery for three years and has fostered eight kittens over the past two seasons. David kept Ultimo in his bedroom and slept on his couch for a week until his other cats got used to the young cat’s presence. “I didn’t want them to be jealous of Ultimo,” explains David, who has three adult male cats.
Over the next six weeks, Ultimo was socialized and developed exceptional climbing and running skills. “He was very affectionate and jumped on my bed every morning to head-butt my chin,” David says. “He’s very playful.” David admits it’s sometimes hard to return one’s foster charges, but the benefits outweigh the losses. “It’s a great experience—you’re temporarily letting these little guys into your life,” he says. “They’re learning from you while you’re learning from them. I really like fostering and encourage others to try it.”
He cites his supportive coach, Carolyn Campbell, a long-time lead nursery caregiver, for teaching him about feline development and behavior. On November 12, after David returned Ultimo to the nursery, Jessica and her husband David adopted him. They were still mourning the passing of Jessica’s previous cat, Apollo, but it was the perfect time to welcome Ultimo—whom they renamed him Scotch Bonnet, or Bonney for short—into their home. For now, Bonney is the couple’s only pet, though they’re considering adding to their feline family in the future.
“He’s super sweet and loves to cuddle,” says Jessica. “And he always greets us at the door.”
Jessica adds that Bonney’s favorite toy is one that she herself couldn’t part with—an orange knitted goldfish that belonged to Apollo. To appease the ever-climbing Bonney, the couple plans to purchase a cat tree. In the meantime, Bonney’s typical perch on their fifth-floor windowsill allows him to safely observe a courtyard filled with birds. Though Bonney’s initial introduction to the world was cruel and callous, his life today is filled with caring and compassion.
“My hope is that none of that early trauma sunk in,” says Jessica. “I want our little Bonney to live a long and happy, healthy life.”