SPRING HILL — For months, the blue-eyed kitten named Noah worked his way into Dorothy Swanson's heart.
Gregarious with a sweet disposition, the lynx-point Siamese mix played with Swanson's own cats and socialized with the other foster cats living in her home.
When Noah was about a year old, he found what Swanson hoped would be his permanent home with a Pasco County woman who approached Home at Last Pet Adoptions, the organization that Swanson is affiliated with as a foster home for cats.
But that happy ending was not to be.
Noah recently was returned to Swanson. Only now, she may have to euthanize the cat because of a fatal illness.
During his year with his new owner, Noah was allowed to go outside, something that the rescue agency tells potential owners not to do. He was also declawed, leaving him unable to defend himself.
Noah was found recently walking along State Road 54 in the Trinity area, wearing a dog collar designed to give animals a mild shock if they try to cross a buried electric wire.
He was taken to a veterinarian who read his microchip and sent him back to Home at Last Pet Adoptions.
Such returns rarely happen, according to agency president Michelle L'Heureux. "This is the worst one we've ever gotten back,'' she said.
That's because along the way, Noah contracted feline leukemia, a death sentence for a cat. Most animals with the disease, which weakens the immune system, survive just two or three years.
Swanson was heartbroken because Noah was healthy when he was adopted. She decided to welcome him back into her Spring Hill home, but she has five healthy cats and foster animals. Feline leukemia is contagious, so she must keep him in a back bedroom separate from the other animals.
Noah isn't fond of that arrangement and he regularly escapes, which sends Swanson into a panic because she doesn't want the other cats infected.
"Him getting out of the bedroom is cause for euthanizing him,'' she said. But Swanson said she understands why he is such an escape artist.
"He's not content in there, being that he's in isolation,'' she said. "I love him so much. I was going to see him through to the end, but it's not a quality of life for him.''
Now she faces a choice. If no suitable home can be found, and so far no one has come forward even though Noah has been on the Home at Last Pet Adoptions Web site for a while, the only choice is euthanasia.
Finding a home is a tough order.
"It's going to have to be someone who is willing to have their heart broken,'' Swanson said.
The cat is healthy now with no outward signs of the leukemia. Since it is contagious, a new home cannot have other cats, or can only have cats that are infected themselves with feline leukemia.
"The ideal circumstance for Noah would be another home where someone is going through a similar thing with a leukemia-positive cat so that he can have a buddy,'' Swanson said.
A household with no other cats would work as well "so that someone could keep him inside and love him for however much time he has,'' she said.
Home at Last will not charge for adopting Noah and will provide limited help with the veterinary bills.
L'Heureux said that Noah's case should be a lesson about what can happen to a cat left to roam. She suspects another cat attacked Noah, transmitting the deadly disease.
Despite his unfortunate past, she said he would make someone a fine pet. "He's a wonderful cat, beautiful, sweet and Siamese,'' she said.
While Noah may not have much time, Swanson said he does have plenty to give.
"He loves other cats. He loves to have someone to sleep with. He likes to be scratched and petted,'' she said. "He'd probably love to be a lap cat, if given the opportunity.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.