Courtesy of Magda Walczak

Caitlin UltimoPet Parenting / Pet Stories

How Feral Cat McClane Earned His ‘Die Hard’ Name

Some cats are born lucky. Others are survivors against all odds. McClane is the latter.

McClane was one of five feral kittens born at the edge of the woods near Magda Walczak’s house in the Chicago suburbs in May 2013.

“There had been a couple cats hanging around, but they looked to be clean, pretty and healthy, so I assumed they were someone’s cats,” Walczak says.

Because the cats would come and go for days at a time, it was hard to keep track of what their daily life was like. Then one showed up after a short absence with five little fluff ball kittens, one of which was a kitten whom Walczak ended up naming McClane.

Courtesy of Magda Walczak

“The first time I saw him was at the end of spring—the start of kitten season—and I had just moved in to the area, which was right next to a forest preserve,” Walczak says.

It was a brief meeting.

“McClane was the runt of the litter and really shy, and we barely saw him in those first few weeks,” she adds.

By then the family had realized the cats were feral, and Walczak says they knew Mom and kittens had to be caught and adopted out as soon as possible.

It wasn’t Walczak’s first encounter with abandoned or feral cats in the area. Sometimes they seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“It feels like every time we manage to catch one to get it spayed/neutered and checked up, another one shows up,” Walczak says. “I wouldn’t say it’s frequent in this area, but I know it happens all the time. That’s why our nation’s shelters are over capacity.”

Courtesy of Magda Walczak

One morning soon after the kitty family arrived, Walczak noticed that McClane had a huge gash across his chest.

“It looked like his chest and leg had been sliced open,” she says. “I could have sworn that I saw his heart beating through the wound.

“We set out a trap, but it didn’t work,” she continues. “The next morning, when we went to check on the family, [we discovered] that the mom and the four healthy kittens had left. The little runt with the huge gash was left behind and more scared than ever.”

Walczak and her sister, Nika, spent the next month trying to catch the elusive kitten. Traps wouldn’t work, as he was too tiny to set them off. And even though the sisters built a shelter for him, he was just too scared to use it and instead would sleep hiding between some wood boards just out of reach. They continued feeding him and trying to catch him, day after day after day.

“Nika would spend a lot of time outside near where McClane lived,” Walczak says. “Sometimes she’d just sit near him so he would get used to having a human around. Other times she would put a string on a stick and get him to play with her, or she’d talk to him so he would learn her voice.”

Courtesy of Magda Walczak

After trying everything they could think of to catch him, McClane eventually just surrendered on his own.

“My sister literally opened the door one morning to find him just sitting there, patiently waiting,” Walczak says. “He must have had enough ‘wilderness.’”

By the time the kitten decided he was ready to be adopted, the wound had healed and fur was growing back around the wound.

Courtesy of Magda Walczak

“We took him straight to the vet, and she couldn’t believe that this kitten was ever ill,” Walczak says. “Today, you can’t even see the scar under all his fluff.”

And that’s how he got his name, McClane, after John McClane from the “Die Hard” movies.

“Just like the McClane from the movies, our McClane was near death and somehow magically survived against all odds, without medical attention,” Walczak says.

Courtesy of Magda Walczak

Fast forward five years, and McClane is now 16 pounds of magnificent kitty. He’s a lazy boy who loves to wrestle with his rescue kitty sister, Sorsha, and groom his doggy brother, Saylor.

“But his wild beginnings are still core to his personality, and he loves to hide in dark, dirty, wet spots,” Walczak says. “His absolute favorite activity, though, is going outside and rolling in dirt. Fortunately, he loves his cushy indoor life, so he never goes more than a few feet from the house—after all, there’s food in the house.”


Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Magda Walczak

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