“Basil is the sweetest, most loving cat I’ve ever had. She’s the best cat ever,” said Tina Parkhurst, Basil’s mom. “I just want more people to be like Basil. Be kind. Be compassionate. I’m so floored that everyone loves Basil as much as I do and I feel really lucky that they’re all like her – kind and compassionate people.”
Basil is a unique nine-year-old well-loved and dare we say, famous, cat. She was rescued by Tina at just a few weeks old and she’s gone on to live the most amazing cat life. “I was volunteering at a small Humane Society shelter. Basil and her two brothers were dumped in a field at just three or four weeks old. Someone brought them into the shelter,” said Tina.
“I took these three little tiny kittens home to foster because they needed round-the-clock care. Unfortunately, one of them didn’t make it. He was just too tiny, too rough. The other two ended up being a foster fail,” Tina said with a warm laugh.
“I just couldn’t let them go. Those two kittens were so precious and I knew they would fit right in with our family,” she said. It didn’t take long for Tina to realize just how special Basil really is. When Basil was just a couple of years old, Tina knew that she would make a wonderful service cat.
Tina began training Basil to be a therapy cat. Basil and Tina went on to become a registered Pet Partners Animal-Assisted Therapy Team, passing all the evaluations and coursework to provide pet therapy to people in schools, hospitals, nursing care facilities, and those under hospice care.
“You can’t force a cat to do that kind of work,” Tina said. “At least 99% of it is their personality and if a cat doesn’t want to do something, we all know they won’t. But Basil was made to be a therapy cat. She loves it. Nothing bothers her and I can count on one hand the number of times she’s been frightened. She loves people and especially kids.”
From there, Tina and Basil also became one of the very first nationally accredited Animal-Assisted Crisis Response feline teams. They went through formal training with FEMA and other organizations to have the training necessary to provide comfort in the wake of disasters.
Over the years, Tina and Basil have gone on nearly 1,000 animal therapy visits. Basil is always more than happy to meet new people. Her soft fur and propensity to purr have brought many people comfort in times of need.
As Basil provided comfort to so many, she grew a huge online following. Thousands of people follow Basil on Facebook and now they’re cheering her on in the biggest fight of her life.
In the spring of 2023, Tina was petting Basil and noticed a lump on her right hind hip. “I knew right then it wasn’t normal,” Tina said. “I’ve had cats my whole life; we almost always lose them to cancer or kidney disease. I knew enough to be worried about cancer.”
Tina took Basil to their local veterinarian for radiographs. They found the mass but did not have the equipment to do much beyond that.
“I called my dear friend, Dr. Jonathan Grant, who is a cat-specialized veterinarian,” Tina detailed. “He’s a wonderful human and an amazing vet. He said I needed to come to the Flint Animal Cancer Center.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Tina added. “CSU is two hours from where I live, but he insisted that Basil would get the best care in the world at the FACC. He was right.”
Basil was diagnosed with a Feline Injection-Site Sarcoma. While vaccines have been proven to dramatically reduce many feline diseases, a small percentage of cats can develop this type of cancer months or years after treatment. A sarcoma – or tumor growth – can develop in the connective tissues of the injection site. These sarcomas develop in less than 1 in 10,000 cats but when they do, they can be serious.
Basil has now had four radiation treatments which have shrunk the initial tumor significantly. However, the cancer is now progressive in Basil’s lungs. Basil is on a feline-specific chemotherapy drug to slow the cancer’s growth. The hope is that Basil will have several more months of quality life.
“I can’t say enough good things about the care we’ve received at the Flint Animal Cancer Center,” Tina said. “The entire staff has been amazing. I trust them and the decisions we’re making together. I know they’re doing everything they can to treat Basil. Dr. Wakamatsu has been especially wonderful. We both adore her.”
“Basil is a very special cat and she has made a difference in so many lives, so it was a privilege to be able to improve her quality of life and hopefully buy more meaningful time that she can spend with her friends and fans,” said Dr. Wakamatsu, one of her clinicians here at the Flint Animal Cancer Center.
As a therapy animal, Basil was able to qualify for a Petco Love Foundation Cancer Treatment Support Fund grant to help cover the cost of her care. “Dealing with cancer in any species is hard and expensive. It was no different for me,” Tina said. “Because of the grant we received, Basil will have every opportunity for the best treatment options in the country. It has made a tremendous difference for us.”
Dr. Burton, a Medical Oncologist at the Flint Animal Cancer Center has helped with Basil’s care. “Basil is truly an amazing cat – she is so relaxed and calm in a hospital environment and it’s easy to see why she has been such a successful working therapy cat. She’s been such a trooper for all her visits and the whole team looks forward to seeing her at each appointment. I am grateful that we have funds to help ensure cats like Basil get the treatment they need and that provide support to their caregivers. Basil recently started a new treatment course to try to manage her cancer and I’m hoping this new treatment keeps her feeling good and happy for as long as possible,” Dr. Burton said.
“With the Petco grant and the donations her fans have given us, Basil has gotten a fighting chance,” said Tina.
Despite the cancer and her treatment, Basil continues to live a full life. She’s now retired from therapy work but she loves her cat siblings and is still very happy and cuddly. “You wouldn’t know anything is wrong. I’m enjoying every single moment that I have left with her,” Tina said.
“I fully believe that we are stewards for the animals we take into our lives. It’s more than just feeding them. It’s our responsibility to make hard decisions for them and not let them suffer when the time comes. I’m not thinking about that too much now but I know the time will come,” Tina added.
“In the meantime, I’m thankful for the care she’s getting at the Flint Animal Cancer Center. She’s still feeling great and I’ll enjoy her for as long as I can,” Tina said. “We’re just taking it day by day and we’re thankful for the care she’s gotten to make it this long.”
One of the ways Tina plans to continue Basil’s legacy is through cancer education and advocacy. “If anything, this has made me a cancer advocate,” Tina said. “Vaccines are necessary but there are ways to lessen the likelihood of injection-site cancers and things to increase the likelihood of survival from them. I hope that with her online following, I can help educate people about feline cancer and help increase awareness of it.”
“Unless there’s a miracle, Basil won’t make it much longer, but her legacy will live on,” Tina said. “She provided care and comfort to so many and I know that had a lasting effect on them. I also know that people online have loved watching her story. Her legacy and memory will continue.”
No matter what life gives you, be like Basil. Show up, have fun. Care for others. Provide comfort. And most importantly, be kind and compassionate.
You can follow along with Basil’s cancer fight at: facebook.com/BasilTherapyCat