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Kismet & Tabby: Life as a Special Needs Cat Mom {Part One}

An Unplanned Rescue (x 2!) - December 10, 2021

I never planned to be a special needs "cat mom", but I guess it was something that's always been in my stars. I grew up always surrounded by cats - barn cats that left litters of kittens in my childhood, and a lifetime of furry loved ones.

For nine years, I have loved one cat more than I have ever loved another, my Stella Storm. She came to me on All Hallow's Eve, 2013. She is rambunctious, full of life and spitfire, and she has lived through what seems like more than nine lives in her adventurous spirit. In all the times I have worried over her wellbeing, she has come back stronger. The two of us have survived unspeakable challenges together, and it has given us a special bond. Stella knows when I need some extra love or care, and this love we share has solidified my belief in the good hearts of our beloved pets.

So, there were no real plans to change the life my husband and I enjoyed as a threesome, Stella as our darling baby girl. And while we looked to the future and spoke of kids, our universe had a different path for the time being in mind.

I still blame my dearest friend, Renee. She'll giggle if she reads that. It's really not her fault at all (minus the fact that she spurred the insane desire I'd been holding back to get Stella a companion and adopt another rescue cat from the shelter). The will was already there, a coal burning within me. Renee sparked the flame and turned it into a blaze - and the blaze caught light in my husband, too. When we discovered the planned kitten adoption wasn't going to work, Scott (said partner) was already on the local Animal Rescue League's (ARL) adoption site (dangerous waters).

A gloved hand holds up a small tabby cat with wide eyes.
The original adoption post for 'Wiggles' at Berks ARL

Wiggles & Webbles

Low and behold, who do we find but this adorable little kitten with the oddest look on his little face, named "Wiggles". I clicked on his page and was greeted with a tiny blue and white handicap symbol. As I read his bio, I began to cry and looked over at Scott with tears streaming down my face. I'd never heard of this condition which "Wiggles" was born with - cerebellar hypoplasia*, or 'CH'.

After taking to Google, the tears became howls of dismay. I demanded, "We have to go get Wiggles right now!" (we were already on the way to the shelter), because I had read in my research that often cats with severe CH are euthanized because they don't have good quality of life - and those in rescues especially are not adopted because, like me at first, potential adoptees balk away from the idea of raising a special needs cat.

The moment we walked into the ARL, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who was quick to inform us that if we were interested in adopting Wiggles, he came with a brother... Webbles. I asked if his brother had the same condition and they said, yes. Scott and I exchanged a glance. We both knew, if we saw the two of them, we were going to adopt them. "We walk out now, or we see them," I said. We didn't walk out. We walked into the tiny visiting room and waiting while they went to grab the boys.

Looking back now, nearly a year later, I wonder how different life would be if we had decided to turn around and leave these two behind in the shelter. Hopefully they would have found a good home, but the staff told us they had had visitors before who did not return and one staff member said he was about to take them home to join his family of five cats (I'm sure the same would happen to me if I worked at a rescue). My heart aches at the thought of turning our backs on these two, who have beyond blossomed in our home.

The first meeting was heart-wrenching. Little Wiggles came out and couldn't balance at all, he fell into walls as he tried to walk around and stay on his feet. He held his head up and wobbled intensely as he tried to look around, and the moment I picked him up and held him, he nudged his nose right against my mask (covid times), a little nose boop - and that was love at first boop.

Homecoming & a Chaotic Love-Fest

There is no doubt we adopted Wiggles--renamed to Kismet--and Webbles--renamed to Tabby--but we did have some doubts as we attempted to introduce them into Queen Bee Stella's home. Poor Stella had spent years waiting for an oasis of her own, so it felt a bit cruel to interrupt her found peace with two rumble-tumble baby boys who were completely enamored and obsessed with her from day one (much to her disdain).

Scott and I were determined to make the three-cat waltz work. It was certainly unplanned and unprepared - we had brought Kismet and Tabby in their adoption box to PetCo to get them supplies and essentials. We carved out a space for them in our office which soon became (special needs) kitten-haven. And so began the chaotic love fest.

While Tabby's CH is little more than a sashay/sway when he walks and some lack of coordination, he gets by as a (mostly) "normal" cat. He can't exactly jump on windowsills but he can climb his way up the futon and has a nice perch on the windowsill in our office now. He enjoys cat trees and has powerful enough arms to lift himself up onto the couch or bed, wherever he is intending.


A photo shortly after adopting Kizzy; 12/30/21

Kismet (named such as "fate or destiny") needed a lot of extra attention and love. He came to us at 4.5 pounds (which is average, and healthy for a 3-month old kitten) but when I watched him attempt to eat food, he flung his head back and tossed it out of the bowl and across the floor. He would become frustrated when he couldn't keep his head steady, bobbing it in and out of the bowl so that he couldn't even get a proper bite of food. I sat with him every morning and evening, cradled him in my lap and helped steady his head so he could get proper nourishment.

A few months went by and I was sitting there with him more as emotional support; his head was steadier, he was able to eat more easily and flung less food. I also observed a difference in his mobility as he grew stronger. He no longer fell into as many walls or on the floor as he walked. He was soon able to walk from one end of the room to the next without falling once. Kismet (or 'Kizzy' as we began to call him) toddled around faster each day - some days, his feet going faster than he could keep up with. There were some wipe-outs and spills (requiring all hardwood floors to be carpeted/blanketed).

As Kizzy grew more independent, his personality began to shine through. He perfected a range of meows for each request - a high-pitched and insistent whine if he is needing a "lift" to the bathroom (sometimes he can't reach it in time and has learned to 'alert' me); a quieter, sweeter mewl if he just wants attention - or a more demanding 'here I am!' iteration of such if he isn't paid attention to immediately; a one-syllable flat tone "feed me"; and a range of other vocalizations that seem more like making conversation (usually inserted when he hears Scott and I talking about him).

Kizzy today. 11/7/22

Do I spoil him? Oh, absolutely. He has changed my life, altered the way I look at daily tasks, and opened my eyes to life a little more 'specially abled'.

I'm still learning every day how to better accommodate his needs, how to make his life easier and more enjoyable (I don't think there's a doubt he's happy), and he teaches me to slow down, enjoy the moment, and take lots of time for snuggles.

If you are able and willing to adopt a cat/dog or other animal available at your local Animal Rescue League or other rescue league, please consider it. The love is returned thrice-fold and the benefits will forever outweigh any other difficulties that arise. A little love goes a long way.

*Cerebellar hypoplasia is a birth defect that affects the brain development of kittens in the womb. They are born with a lack of (or altered) coordination, depth/distance perception, and balance. In severe cases, they may require assistance to walk, use the restroom, eat, etc. This does not affect their life expectancy, and they are not in pain.

Follow their triple-cat antics on Instagram @stella.kizzy.tabby_adventures.

{To Be Continued.}


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