Two days before Christmas, Claudia Mustafa got into her car to drive her mother from Long Island, New York, to New Jersey. It turned out to be a journey neither of them would forget.
“My mother had been visiting for a while, and she’d caught my son’s cold,” Mustafa told The Dodo. “She said, ‘It’s better if I head home so … I can get better on my own.’”
For a reason Mustafa doesn’t entirely understand, she decided to take the Bruckner Expressway through the Bronx, even though she realized there might be more traffic on that road.
“It was about 12:40 or 12:45 — I remember looking at the time and saying it’s going to take about an hour to get to New Jersey,” Mustafa said. “The sun was glistening a little bit, and I looked ahead, and I saw something furry.”
The furry object was pressed against the median strip separating the two sides of the highway. Mustafa’s first thought was that it was roadkill. But when the car ahead of her passed the object, she saw it was a cat.
“The ears flickered, and I said, ‘Oh my God. It’s not roadkill. It’s actually still alive,’” Mustafa said. “I saw his eyes blinking rapidly because of the wind gusts.”’
The road was packed with cars, and there was no shoulder for her to pull onto. But Mustafa just couldn’t drive past the cat.
She slammed on her brakes, put on her hazard lights and stepped onto the road, ignoring the honking cars behind her.
“I said a little prayer. I said, ‘Please cat, don’t run off because then I’m going to watch you die, and I’m going to feel like it’s my fault,’” Mustafa said.
Thankfully, the cat didn’t move — he seemed petrified with fright. But Mustafa couldn’t believe he’d managed to survive at all.
“There was no space there,” she said. “The cat had rolled up in a little ball up . The cars were passing right by this cat, and when I picked him up, he even had debris on him because he was so afraid to move, like the pebbles and dirt from the road. It was just sad, it was just horrible.”
Mustafa placed the cat into the back seat of her car and started driving again.
“Eventually, I got home and took him out of the car,” Mustafa said. “He was meowing.”
The cat, now named Bruckner, was extremely friendly, which led Mustafa to assume that he’d been owned by someone, and maybe on the highway.
She also noticed that Bruckner’s .
“His leg was at a 90-degree angle from the ankle down,” Mustafa said. “I guess he was running and a car hit him from behind.”
Mustafa phoned the vet clinic where she takes her dog, Cookie, and managed to get a last-minute appointment. When the vet examined Bruckner, he had good news and bad news — the good part was that he could save Bruckner’s leg, but the bad part was that it would cost $5,500.
This was a lot of money for Mustafa, who is retired for disability reasons and has a young son to care for. So the clinic staff laid out other options. If the cost was too great, they suggested taking Bruckner to a local shelter — but Mustafa couldn’t do this.
“I thought, ‘[A shelter is] not going to spend $5,500 to mend his leg or do surgery,’” Mustafa said. “No one is going to want to deal with him, and they’re probably going to euthanize him.”
Mustafa spoke to her husband, and she teared up when she heard what he said.
“My husband said, ‘We should give him a chance of survival, especially if he survived thus far,’” Mustafa said. “I started crying because I was hoping this would be the answer I would get, and we moved forward with the surgery.”
“The doctor thought we were crazy,” Mustafa added. “We’d just spent $1,200 for a fatty tumor to be removed from our dog, and here we are spending $5,500 on a cat that’s not even ours. We’re going to be in debt because of this cat, but it’s OK. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
The surgery was a success, although Bruckner has months of healing ahead of him and needs to be kept contained in a crate. But Mustafa and her husband are giving him as much attention as they can.
“My husband was really not a cat person, but now he’s like, ‘Oh, look at him, he’s making that sound,’” Mustafa said. “He thought there was something wrong with him, and I said, ‘No, he’s purring. It’s a good thing.’”
While Mustafa initially hoped to keep Bruckner, she’s not sure if her dog Cookie will get along with him.
“My dog is like a diva,” Mustafa said. “I can’t even hug my husband — she’ll jump up and scratch his arm to get off of me. She’s extremely jealous, so I’m a little concerned.”
In case Bruckner does need another home, a rescue group called offered to help him find one, and Mustafa is very grateful for their help.
“It’s a sad story, but with him, there’s a happy ending,” Mustafa said.