It’s hard to know what a cat is feeling at any given moment, but when Elka’s rescuer put a collar on the sick, senior kitty for the first time, there was no translation needed.

Elka was overjoyed.

Before her rescue, the approximately 18-year-old cat hadn’t had it easy. At some point, Elka’s former owner had declawed her and then abandoned her with a colony of feral cats when they no longer wanted her.

But, for Brenda Wilkinson, founder of Hands of Mercy Cat Sanctuary, Elka’s life started the night of her rescue. Elka was first spotted by local residents, who captured the scared cat and brought her into their home to give her food and water. Then, they called Wilkinson at Hands of Mercy for help.

When Wilkinson first laid eyes on Elka, she could see the old cat was struggling — so much so that the experienced rescuer did not expect her to live for much longer.

Tests would later confirm that Elka’s organs had already started to fail.

“I really felt like it was going to be a short time together,” Wilkinson told The Dodo. “So I [did] everything I could to make her feel loved.”

Wilkinson followed Elka’s lead on how she liked to receive love. “She [wanted] to be petted,” Wilkinson said. “She [would] sit on the stand beside my chair and paw at my arm until I [paid] attention to her.”

One of Elka’s love languages that Wilkinson never expected, though, was that of being fitted with her very own collar.

“I was putting [collars] on some of the other cats,” Wilkinson said. “She was watching me put them on the others, so I went ahead and put one on her, not really thinking anything of it.”

But as soon as Wilkinson secured the bright orange collar around Elka’s neck, something changed. “I could feel everything inside of her leap with joy,” Wilkinson said. “Like, ‘Oh my God, someone loves me. I have a home again.’”

It’s been six months since Elka’s brightest chapter started, and her new mom is doing everything possible to help slow her organ failure and alleviate some of her symptoms. “She’s doing amazing,” Wilkinson said. “She’s persistent — she will not take no for an answer.”

Elka will stay right by Wilkinson’s side at the cat sanctuary for the rest of her days. There, she will get lifelong medical treatment while wearing her adorable orange collar and receive nonstop hugs and kisses from her new mom and the rest of the Hands of Mercy family.

And she will never have to know what it feels like to not wear a collar again because, as Wilkinson said, “she’s home.”

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