Meow, the fat cat whose 39-pound girth helped raise awareness about obesity in pets, has died of lung failure.
The orange-and-white tabby was turned in to the Santa Fe, N.M., animal shelter last month and quickly made international headlines. At first, his story was played for laughs: The 2-year-old cat apparently favored hot dogs, and was so fat that he got stuck inside things. He barely fit into his animal carrier, and was likened to Puss in Boots from the "Shrek" movies.
But Meow's weight underscored a growing problem: Pets in America are getting fatter -- just like their owners -- and all that extra weight can hasten death.
That's what happened in Meow's case, said Mary Martin, executive director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. The shelter assumed care of Meow when his 87-year-old owner could no longer care for the mammoth feline.
"We are so heartbroken," Martin told the Los Angeles Times. "He had such a big personality. We all fell in love with him."
Ideally, Meow would have weighed 7 to 10 pounds. Carrying 39 pounds of weight on his feline frame was the equivalent of a man weighing more than 600 pounds, experts said.
The shelter placed Meow in a foster home and put him on a strict, high-protein diet intended to knock off some weight before he could be adopted by a new owner. Publicized weigh-ins were planned as a way to highlight the problem of obesity in pets, as well as to drum up interest in pet adoptions.
But then Meow began wheezing last Thursday.
The shelter's vet paid Meow a home visit, initially suspecting that the wheezing might be caused by allergies or asthma. Tests were ordered, including a cardiac ultrasound. But Meow's condition continued to worsen, and he was taken to a veterinary hospital on Friday for emergency treatment.
In all, four veterinarians were brought in to try to save Meow. But the now-famous cat died Saturday afternoon, Martin said.
The shelter posted the news on its Facebook page Monday morning. It also offered the public a glimpse of Meow's days before he had been stricken.
"Meow had been doing so well in his foster home; walking up stairs and seeking affection -- that it is so very hard to believe he is gone. We will forever be grateful for the attention Meow's size brought to pet obesity and to animal shelters across the country."
"We are especially grateful to all of you who fell in love with this charming cat -- as we did -- and were so very interested in his progress and success."
Martin said it did not bother her that Meow's story -- at least in the beginning -- led to fat jokes. "There were some people who thought it was cute to have a fat cat," she said. "But I think the message was there that 'This is not OK.'"
Martin said that the cat's elderly owner, who is in a nursing home, likely was unaware of the news. The woman's daughter, however, had been told and was heartbroken by the turn of events.
Martin said she is grateful to Meow. "We saw a bump in adoptions because of him, and we saw a bump in awareness about obesity [in pets] because of him."