They call him Little Dude, but he's got a big problem.
At 33 pounds as of his last weigh-in, the filled-out feline has a dark gray coat that, when he lies on his considerable belly, makes him look not unlike a baby seal.
But his average-size face, marked by big, soulful eyes and thick stripes of silver and black, hints at the slimmer 15-pound cat that lives beneath.
The goal, said Angela Jackson-Brunning — who is fostering Little Dude at her house in Costa Mesa — is to slowly get the cat down to a manageable weight before he is adopted by a "forever family."
"He's just a big love bug," Jackson-Brunning told the Daily Pilot.
About two weeks ago, Little Dude's family of about a decade took him to WAGS Pet Adoption, a no-kill shelter in Westminster. The owners told shelter workers that the family's apartment complex had implemented a pet rent that they could not afford, said Cortney Dorney, WAGS' shelter coordinator.
The cat's primary caretaker, an older man, likely subscribed to a "food is love" philosophy, allowing Little Dude unfettered access to snacks without giving him much exercise, Dorney said.
"They said, 'We tried the diet food, but he loves to eat,'" she said.
Big cats (in girth, not stature) don't do well in the shelter environment, Dorney said. They tend to get stressed, which can cause their livers to start to shut down.
So when Dorney met Little Dude, the heftiest cat she's seen in her 20 years associating with shelters, she knew she had to get him into a foster home quickly.
Jackson-Brunning, who works at Newport Mesa Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, has fostered many animals for the shelter in the last few years.
When the shelter put out word of its search for someone to foster Little Dude, she volunteered.
"There's just something about him," she said.
Jackson-Brunning says she starts each morning by cleaning up Little Dude's sleeping area (sometimes it's tough to get to the litter box a couple of steps away) and gives the heavy-set kitty a sponge bath. Then she tries to coax him to walk five or six feet.
It's been a stressful transition. After about a week at Jackson-Brunning's home, he was refusing to eat and, ironically, had dropped too much weight — from 36 pounds to about 31 pounds. On Thursday afternoon he was set to be fed through a tube.
Jackson-Brunning hopes he'll soon have a steady, gradual weight-loss regimen. Dorney estimated he might be ready for adoption in several months.
Jackson-Brunning said she thinks that once he's made a transformation, Little Dude might need a new name. A Facebook follower suggested rechristening the cat St. Augustine of Hippo, or Auggie for short. The saint started out living a "loose life" before making a change.
"And I love names that have meaning," she said.
Little Dude shifted on his cushion tucked under the stairs. He didn't object.
Cowan writes for Times Community News.