The playful cat with a permanently surprised look on his face was just a week old when he was separated from his mom last year. Natalia Zhdanova heard his cries and found him alone, hungry and sick in her backyard in Rostov, Russia.
With help from her neighbor’s cat, Handsome, Zhdanova nursed Fedya back to health, and now the little guy is up to a healthy weight and thriving at 18 months old.
“He was very weak and was dying,” Zhdanova told the UK’s SWNS wire. “Handsome cleaned and licked Fedya and became like a father figure to him.”
The two cats are now “the best of friends,” and Zhdanova said Fedya “purrs very loudly” for her and Handsome.
“He is a very sweet, gentle, playful, and intelligent cat,” she said.
You can see more photos and videos of Kedya on Instagram @fedja_kot, where he’s accumulated more than 36,000 followers.
Human beings have lived in the city known as Aleppo for more than 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest continually-inhabited settlements in human history.
But as the raging civil war in Syria expanded and bombs began to fall on the country’s largest city, there was an unprecedented mass exodus — reducing Aleppo’s population from 4.6 million in 2010 to less than 600,000 by 2014.
Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel was one of the stubborn few who stayed. His wife and children fled to safety in Turkey in 2015, but anchored by his commitment to people who couldn’t leave, Aljaleel stayed behind to continue driving his ambulance and feeding a growing population of abandoned cats.
At first friends and acquaintances turned to Aljaleel to take their cats as they prepared to flee the crumbling city, knowing he was fond of felines and would care for them as his own.
Others heard about the “cat man of Aleppo,” and soon Aljaleel’s home became a sanctuary for former pets from all over the city, which was becoming a ghost town.
With few remaining people to feed them — and food sources like restaurant dumpsters drying up — hungry stray cats started showing up too.
“Since everyone has left the country, including my own friends, these cats have become my friends here,” Aljaleel said in 2016, as a BBC camera crew filmed him among the hundreds of cats in his care.
One day a car pulled up and a little girl stepped out, cradling a cat.
Her parents “knew there was a cat sanctuary here,” Aljaleel told the BBC at the time. “The girl had brought the cat up since she was a kitten. She cried as she handed her over to me, and they left the country.”
For many people leaving the city in search of refuge in Europe or elsewhere in Syria, the decision to leave a beloved pet was agonizing.
But entrusting a cat to Aljaleel and his makeshift sanctuary — where the animal would be fed and well cared for — was much more palatable than making it to the border of an EU country only for a border guard or customs official to refuse the cat entry, forcing families to choose between pet and safety.
For people like the little girl, knowing their cats were in Aljaleel’s sanctuary meant maintaining a tie to home and hope that they could return.
“I’ve been taking photos of the cat and sending them to her in Turkey. She begs me, ‘Send me photos of her. I miss her. Please promise to return my cat to me when I get back.'”
That was in 2016. Almost five years later it looks like the young girl won’t be returning to Syria, and her cat is likely dead.
After Aljaleel’s makeshift cat sanctuary swelled to include more than 200 cats, things took a turn for the worse.
The Syrian government and rebel forces dug in, calling on allies for support and resources. ISIS and Iranian-backed insurgents entered the fray, seeing opportunity to advance their own interests amid the chaos.
So too did Russia and the United States. Both countries treated the conflict as a proxy war, with Russia backing Assad and his Syrian government forces, while the US and its allies threw their support behind an opposition that grew out of the Arab Spring in 2011.
The US and Russia provided the combatants with training and weapons systems, increasing the destructive firepower at the command of the belligerents. Both countries sought to advance their geopolitical ambitions in the region when they entered the conflict.
In internal memos justifying intervention in Syria, the US State Department predicted the civil war would flare out in months. Instead, the war has now lasted more than a decade, and in a move The Guardian called “a bloody end to [former President Barack] Obama’s reign,” in 2016 the US dropped 26,171 bombs on countries in the Middle East, with Syria absorbing the lion’s share.
Perhaps it was one of those bombs — or a bomb from Russia, or one of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s own warheads — that obliterated Aljaleel’s sanctuary. It’s unlikely anyone will ever know. But one thing all sides agree on is that the chlorine gas was courtesy of Assad, who has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against his own people in the bloody war.
Weeks after Aljaleel was featured in a BBC short about the impact of the war, Aljaleel “watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then gassed during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo,” per the BBC.
Some 180 of the 200 or so cats who found refuge with Aljaleel were killed by the bomb and the chlorine gas, and the stubborn man who dug in his heels and cared for Aleppo’s cats while everyone else fled finally gave up on his city.
Aljaleel and his cats survived the power outages, the destruction of the water works, the food shortages and a military siege of the city, but now the Cat Man of Aleppo was just a cat man in an ambulance.
He packed the few surviving cats, his meager possessions and a few sick, injured or elderly people into an ambulance and joined a convoy of civilians escaping the crumbling city. It was a tense and perilous journey, as those who fled knew Assad had no reservations about targeting his own people if it served his goals.
After seeing his family and recovering in Turkey, and with the help of an Italian benefactor and a growing community of supporters on social media, Aljaleel took his cats and his friends to a rural area in Syria, far from targets of opportunity, where he purchased a plot of land, put down roots and began his sanctuary anew.
Ernesto’s Paradise is home to several hundred cats, plus four monkeys, horses, rabbits and dogs. There’s a playground for kids and — after a long search to find a veterinarian who hadn’t fled — Ernesto’s finally has a doctor in the house too.
The civil war in Syria has created perhaps the worst refugee crises in modern history, with millions fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in search of sanctuary.
The war had claimed 387,118 souls as of December 2020, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Another 205,300 were missing and presumed dead, according to SOHR. In addition, more than 88,000 people have been tortured to death in Assad’s prisons, while thousands more were taken by ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in the country.
But “children and animals are the big losers” in war, Aljaleel told the BBC, and that’s why he chose to return.
“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” he said. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”
You can follow and support Aljaleel’s work via Twitter, Facebook and by visiting his sanctuary’s official site. Direct donations to the sanctuary can be sent here.
“The cat wasn’t meowing and the bag wasn’t moving,” municipal waste employee Mikhail Tukash told local television. “I needed to cut the bag to screen it for metals. I was just doing my job.”
In an eerily similar incident, three kittens were pulled from a conveyor belt in New Jersey on Dec. 17, just before they would have been killed in the threshing metal teeth of a glass crusher, the local CBS News affiliate reported.
Someone had disposed of the kittens in a backpack. This time the bag was moving, prompting Burlington Recycling Plant employee Barrie Donaldson to stop the conveyor.
“I looked at it real closely and they were moving,” Donaldson told the station. “And I was like, ‘Oh wow, there is something in this bag.”
Co-worker Ashley Bush, who was with Donaldson when he rescued the kittens, adopted one of the three baby cats and named her Precious.
“I looked to my right and I see all the teeth going,” Bush said. “That would have been horrendous.”
“Right away, I said, ‘I gotta have her,'” Bush added.
The other two were adopted by a local family. Police in Burlington are asking the public for tips to help them track down the person who disposed of the kittens.
As for the lucky Russian feline, local government officials in Ulyanovsk are holding a public contest to name the fluffster, who will also be named an honorary wildlife minister in the government’s efforts to tell the public not to toss animals in the garbage.
A photo of a tigress hugging a tree in Siberia has won the prestigious Wildlife Photo Of The Year from London’s Natural History Museum.
Photographer Sergey Gorshkov beat out almost 50,000 other entrants with his winning photograph, taken in Land of the Leopard National Park, a large reserve for tigers and leopards in Far East Siberia.
Gorshkov set up his camera facing a tree that already had claw marks, signaling that it’s been used as a territorial marker by at least one of more than 30 adult tigers in the park.
Sure enough, a tigress stopped to claw new marks on the tree and rub her scent on it, which is the same behavior we see with house cats when they rub on objects — and people — in the home. Cats have scent glands on their faces and paws which allow them to mark objects with pheromones. It’s a cat’s way of leaving a “sign” saying “This is mine.”
The photo has an ethereal quality, with the tigress and tree illuminated by shafts of sunlight poking through the canopy of the ancient forest.
The photo titled “Hugs” shows the moment in which the rarest Amur tiger hugs a century-old fir to mark the target tree with its scent. Sergey Gorshkov, with the support of professional guides from Land of the Leopard, took a picture using a professional camera with a motion sensor.
“This is a scene like no other, a unique look at an intimate moment deep in a magical forest,” said Rose Kidman Cox, chairwoman of the contest’s jury.
The photo “inspires hope” for the endangered Amur tiger, Cox said. In addition to the 30-plus tigers, Land of the Leopard National Park is also home to at least 10 tiger cubs and almost 100 leopards.
Gorshkov’s photo wasn’t the only feline winner this year. “When mother says run,” a photograph by China’s Shanyan Li, shows a trio of Pallas’ cubs with their mother “on the remote steppes of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in northwest China.” The photograph won in the mammalian behavior category.
Thanks to a Russian artist with a skilled hand at Photoshop, we now have an answer to a question no one asked: Can other animals be improved by catifying them?
The answer is yes, at least for the furry ones.
Like this KoalaCat:
This moncat. Or macatque:
This not-very-amused looking ceep (shat?):
And this Canda, or Pancat:
And finally this Cedgehog:
The artist, Galina Bugaevskaya, posts her creations to an Instagram account she created and dubbed Koty Vezde, Russian for “Cats Are Everywhere.” The 29-year-old is based in Moscow and, not surprisingly, she has her own feline overlords.
Visit Bugaevskaya’s Instagram and VK pages to see more.
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.