In an instant, they became friends.
Josh, a 13-year-old with Asperger syndrome who couldn’t express his love, and Andy, a scrawny stray cat ready for someone to love him.
Josh’s grandmother, Kim Neff, found the black cat alone in a parking lot of a Northside apartment complex on Halloween. He was emaciated and matted. He was so small, she thought he was a kitten.
Neff went home to pick up a cat carrier and Josh. The family had a cat, but Jack wasn’t affectionate.
That puzzled Josh, who would ask his grandmother why Jack didn’t love him. Trying to explain the emotions of a cat can be difficult, at best.
But Andy was different. From the beginning, he was loving and craved attention.
“Josh was very excited he had a friend,” said Neff, who’s taken care of her grandson for 11 years.
Their friendship couldn’t have come at a better time.
Neff said Josh was choosing to be by himself more and was not interested in activities he typically enjoyed. Not riding his bike, not playing with his cars, not building with his Legos.
Those are traits linked to Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. But Neff feared Josh was starting to regress. She needed to find a way to get him back on track. To unlock his spirit.
Andy is that “little key that helps Josh unlock that secret boy to let him out,” Neff said.
Josh immediately started to blossom. He was happier and content. He was willing to do things outside his comfort zone. He even told his grandmother a joke.
“It was funny,” Neff said.
Josh also told her he loved her.
That was something he had not been capable of or willing to do in the past, she said.
“I feel like Andy has played an instrumental part in doing this.” Neff said.
And then Andy got sick.
He was in and out of First Coast No More Homeless Pets with serious dehydration, vomiting and a weakened immune system.
“He’d bounce back, then get sicker,” Neff said.
An ultrasound and X-rays revealed a urinary obstruction. Surgery would be expensive, even at the low-cost clinic. It was money the family didn’t have. But they couldn’t lose Andy, because they might lose Josh again.
First Coast No More Homeless Pets employees saw the special bond between Josh and Andy and wanted to keep the friends together.
Thanks to the Angel Fund, Andy got his life-saving surgery. The fund pays for medical care for pets whose families can’t afford it. And the family certainly couldn’t afford the $2,000 bill.
Nicole Brose, development director at the clinic, said the story of Josh and Andy made the 5-year-old cat a favorite there.
“Every day, we would all come together and check on Andy,” she said. “We didn’t know if we were going to lose him or not.”
Neff understands the significance of what First Coast No More Homeless Pets did by saving Andy. She believes if Andy hadn’t survived, Josh would have shut down.
“They did more than save Andy’s life,” she said. “I think they saved Josh.”
When Andy was at the clinic, Josh would repeatedly ask where his friend was and when he was coming back.
Now that he’s home, Andy sits in Josh’s lap for hours while Josh reads or watches television.
Both are happy and content. In their own way, both are finally able to say “I love you.”