Benny the cat has a misshapen jaw and a lower lip that exposes his teeth in a constant sneer. He has a wonky, stop-motion gait, and his nose is unusually wide, with damaged nostrils. His human, Beverly Leifer, said that when he investigates something, he has to touch his nose to it for a few seconds before his brain tells him what it is.
Benny is a damaged cat. Leifer had met him when he was being held as evidence in an abuse investigation initiated by Long Beach Animal Care Services. She’d gone there to take photos of pets to network on social media and was immediately drawn to him by his injured face and sweet disposition. She wanted to take him home, but the volunteer in the cat room wasn’t sure whether the cat would ever be up for adoption.
“Well, text me if he is,” Leifer answered.
Benny had entered the shelter with a different name. He’d been in awful shape when he was first brought to the shelter, with trauma-related injuries. The initial investigation suggested abuse, but further interviews led the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office to declare that the evidence wasn’t sufficient enough to press charges.
When the cat was surrendered, he was a mess—he had injuries both old and recent, and it had all taken place in the space of Benny’s short life. According to the intake paperwork, he was only 7 months old. He was thin as a rail but ate voraciously despite his displaced jaw. The vets noted a sweet disposition but a notable shyness around males. Specialists determined that his injuries were caused by blunt-force trauma, likely not from a vehicle. Surgery was recommended, but first, the fragile little guy had to get healthy.
“I don’t know how he survived,” Leifer said.
Long Beach Animal Care Services filed an abuse complaint with the county. It took a while to complete the investigations and conduct interviews, but the Long Beach branch of the DA’s office did not prosecute the case. Details from the interviews didn’t amount to reliable, sufficient evidence and cannot be made available here because of the absence of prosecution or conviction. There was no statement of affirmation that Benny had not been abused, but Leifer feels that he didn’t receive his justice.
“Having worked in federal law enforcement, I can imagine how disappointing this is for the shelter investigator and staff as well,” Leifer said.
Justice—maybe not. Just rewards—most certainly
Benny’s fate, however, was about to take a turn. He was cleared for adoption, and Leifer hightailed it to the shelter to fill out the paperwork. Another obstacle—money—presented itself when Leifer was informed that Benny would need further, expensive treatments and surgery. This would have been more than she could handle financially, but Leifer was in love and meant to get the little cat healthy.
“Long Beach Animal Care Services went above and beyond what they normally do,” Leifer said. “But they knew that there’d be a lot more, and it was going to cost a lot more than they’d normally spend.”
Leifer sent out an impassioned post on social media to which nonprofit cat rescue Helen Sanders CatPAWS immediately responded. The group promised to pull Benny and take on expenses for his care provided that Leifer could foster him and get him to medical appointments. She readily agreed.
“I’m grateful that he got adopted—I loved that cat!” said animal-control officer Edna Sorensen, one of the shelter’s investigators. “Knowing that Benny is safe and will never know fear or pain again, and is so dearly loved brings some joy after this disappointing result. If it weren’t for Beverly and the shelter, he probably wouldn’t be alive to enjoy his new life.”
Leifer officially changed the lucky cat’s name to Benny, after a favorite uncle. He was whisked off to more specialists and cleared for surgery. Deborah Felin, one of CatPAWS’ founders, said that one of the veterinarians the organization regularly uses was shaking with anger as he debriefed her on what he found during the exam—among them, a fractured skull and a severely damaged nose.
“The staff was crying—it was one of the worst cases they’d ever seen,” Felin said.
But everything went fast and well. Benny was neutered and had hip surgery; his jaw was left to heal on its own since he was eating well and comfortably. But he’d retained permanent neurological damage and likely will have balance issues and his Chaplinesque walk for the rest of his life. Neither Benny nor Leifer seem concerned, though.
“He can walk!” Leifer exclaimed. “He’s the most resilient cat in the world!”
Leifer, Felin and CatPAWS are helping Benny pay his gratitude forward with a huge Birthday Bash at Camp Run-A-Mutt in Gardena. The event will feature games, adoptions and a couple of famous feline celebrities. Proceeds will go to CatPAWS and the shelter—information and tickets are available here. He has his own Facebook page, Justice for Benny, to highlight the too many Bennys in the world that get lost in legal tape or don’t get investigated at all.
Benny continues to recover and delight in just being a cat. He’s about to turn 2 years old in the toy-and-cat-furniture-filled house they share with two other cats—no cat fights here, by the way. But Leifer thinks he may be haunted by his past.
“He wants to play with the other cats, and he loves people,” Leifer said. “You wouldn’t know by looking at him that he went through this terror. But at night, or if he’s in deep sleep, he kicks and punches and thrashes. I honestly believe he has nightmares.”
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