DETROIT – He had walked into the Emergency Department at Henry Ford Hospital to escape the cold and rain on that fateful day in April.
His brown coat matted from the rain, he had entered through the automatic sliding door at the walk-in entrance, turned the corner and stepped through the metal detector without setting it off.
Standing in front of the towering security desk and unaware of his surroundings, he then tried to get someone’s attention as he only knew how. He began meowing.
What happened next will warm your heart.
Two security officers took notice of the cat and called for Victoria Ziraldo, a four-year registered nurse who is affectionately known in the Emergency Department as the cat lady because of her volunteer work at the Metro Area Animal Adoption Association in Detroit.
“We certainly have strays who wander around the campus in the parking lot who are most likely feral” says Ziraldo, “but I’ve never met a cat or a dog, for that matter, who just walked into a hospital, friendly as anything, asking for help.”
The cat had no identification and likely sought shelter out of the raw weather that day, Ziraldo says. The skinny feline had scrapes on his paw and an apparent wound on its tail but otherwise was in good spirits. She couldn’t evaluate the nature of the wound because the cat’s wet fur was matted to its tail.
Ziraldo was working the afternoon shift that day only by happenstance. She had switched work days with a colleague so she could attend her father’s birthday party. While she completed her shift, the cat stayed in a cardboard box in the comfort of the hospital’s security dispatch office.
After consulting with her husband, Dan, and the coordinator for the animal adoption association, the animal rescue offered to take the cat under their care.
The next day, Ziraldo took the cat to the animal rescue’s veterinarian for a full check-up. “Our main concern was, besides his health, was the health of our own cats (Milo and Oliver) and having any kind of stray brought into our home," she says. "We didn’t know anything about the cat.”
It was during the check-up that Ziraldo learned about the cat’s tail wound. “The wound was pretty large, it was a dime-sized hole on the tail itself. The vet said it looked like a bb-gun like shot.”
The wound had infected and a small abscess had formed on the back of the tail.
“That injury could have been life-threatening if somebody hadn’t intervened,” Ziraldo says. “The vet said, like humans, the cat could have developed sepsis and not only lost the tail but could have died of infection if it hadn’t been treated.”
The cost of the care, which included neutering, vaccination and antibiotics, came to $1,000. The adoption agency graciously picked up the tab.
For the next three months Ziraldo and her husband fostered the cat until it could be put up for adoption. During that time, her parents, Joan and Tony Ziraldo, visited from time to time from Windsor, Ontario and bonded with the furry animal and his personality. Last month, they formally adopted the cat, who by this time had been named Henry.
“My coworkers had plenty of suggestions, but the general consensus was why not name him after the place he walked into,” Ziraldo says. “Henry seemed to be most appropriate and it stuck.”
Looking back on that eventful day in April, Ziraldo says the experience has been rewarding.
“I certainly hoped for the best,” she says. “He’s become such a wonderful companion and he’s such a great cat. He has such a wonderful personality.”
Even the staff in the Emergency Department took to Henry’s story. As a Level 1 trauma center, Henry Ford treats the most critically ill and injured. In 2018, the Emergency Department logged more than 101,200 visits.
“It kind of became like a department bonding story,” Ziraldo says. “The staff love hearing about Henry and how it turned out. It brought us together as a team and shed some light on our department as a whole and the wonderful things we do every day.”
MEDIA CONTACT: David Olejarz / David.Olejarz@hfhs.org / 313.874.4094