‘Saddest Shelter Cat,’ Bruce Willis, Gets Movie-Worthy Happy Ending


In the summer of 2019, Sandra Daniloff was scrolling through Instagram when she came upon a photo of the saddest cat she’d ever seen. His little eyes were barely open, his ears were bent, and he looked hopeless.

“There was something about the look on this face that just made my heart sink,” said Daniloff.

The orange tabby at Animal Humane Society in the Minneapolis area was named Bruce Willis.

Bruce had been found as a stray and had likely spent years fending for himself before ending up at an animal control facility. He was then transferred to the AHS.

@mrwillisthecat The day that changed both of our lives💖 #adoptdontshop #rescuecat #catsoftiktok ♬ Pompeii – Live – bastille

The chubby-cheeked tomcat was battle-scarred and very sick. He had eye injuries, chipped teeth, and had tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

It’s not known exactly how Bruce got his name but the supposition is that this scrappy boy’s look matched well with how actor Bruce Willis looks in his action films—rough around the edges, but adorable.

Daniloff had no plans to adopt a cat at that time because her lease said, “no pets.”

“I wanted to adopt him so badly but at the time my landlord didn’t allow cats,” she said.

Operation Free Bruce Willis

What Daniloff calls “operation find Bruce Willis a home” got underway. She reached out to friends and co-workers, asking them if they wanted to adopt Bruce.

“I visited his adoption page 50 times a day, hoping that someone would get him but his status never changed,” said Daniloff.

She felt she had to go meet Bruce.

“He looked even sadder in real life,” she said.

Weeks passed and nobody adopted Bruce. Then he got sick with an upper respiratory infection, eye infection, and ear infection.

Sick Bruce Willis the cat

Bruce got very sick in the shelter. Photo courtesy of AHS

When Daniloff went back to see Bruce again he was so sick he didn’t get up to greet her. He just slept.

“I was worried he wouldn’t make it so I told him that I loved him,” she said.

For some reason she just couldn’t let him go.

“As time went by and no one else adopted him, I got so worried about what would happen to him. I talked to my landlord, who agreed to make an exception,” she said.

She adopted Bruce.

Yippee Ki Yay

When she first let Bruce out of the carrier at her apartment, he said a quiet “meep,” walked around the room, rolled over for a tummy rub, and purred.

“I’ve never seen a happier cat in my life before than the day I brought him home,” said Daniloff. “He was so grateful and it was as if he knew he was home right from the start. “

Cute cat Bruce

So happy in his forever home. Photo courtesy of Sandra Daniloff

Daniloff said Bruce was extra thankful for all the food she gave him.

“I think he was used to starving after likely living outside for a long time,” she said.

Bruce now enjoys life with mom, playing with his wormy toys and going for walks on a leash.

“We definitely have a special bond,” said Daniloff. “It’s like taking care of a toddler who follows you wherever you go and screams ‘mommy  mommy, when are we gonna eat’ every five seconds.”

An Underdog Triumphs

Bruce has become a social media star, and the photos of him sleeping (most days he’s stretched out and belly-up) are adorable.

Sleeping cat Bruce

Bruce knows how to relax. Photo courtesy of Sandra Daniloff

“I think he’s just a natural talent in front of the camera,” said Daniloff. “His funny sleeping positions sure help too.”

Cat standing on hind legs

Bruce likes to stand on his hind legs to get a treat. Photo courtesy of Sandra Daniloff

Daniloff said pets at the Animal Humane Society typically get adopted within nine days on average, and even though Bruce was a popular cat at the shelter, this was not the case for him. He even ended up getting the label “forget me not” since he was waiting for a home for so long.

Even With FIV, a Happy Ending

“There were three letters in his description that likely scared people off: FIV, Feline immunodeficiency virus. I’m not gonna lie, I knew absolutely nothing about it before I met Bruce,” she said.

Daniloff said she had thought Bruce probably wouldn’t live very long.

“Now I luckily know better,” she said. “FIV+ cats can live long, healthy, happy lives and it’s even possible for them to share a home with FIV- cats.”

Overall, Bruce has been healthy since Daniloff adopted him but he’s had some minor issues.

“He has allergies so I have to give him allergy shots regularly and he’s also had five teeth extracted. Other than that, he’s doing better than ever,” she said.

Daniloff said she’s heard many horror stories from around the world about how badly FIV+ cats are treated simply because people rely on old beliefs that FIV is much worse than it actually is.

“It has made me realize I have to get even better at advocating for FIV+ cats,” she said. “Bruce and so many cats like him deserve a chance.”

Bruce Willis the cat and his mom, Sandra

Bruce and his mom Sandra clearly love each other. Photo courtesy of Sandra Daniloff

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