Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Adopting a “Special Needs” Friend

Hi everyone, this is the original draft for the Animal Friends Of Connecticut winter 2017 newsletter.

Adopting a “Special Needs” Friend

In October of 2015, my veterinarian’s office posted pictures of a tiny orphaned newborn kitten on their Facebook page. The kitten clung to life by the thinnest of threads as the veterinarians and technicians fought around the clock to save him.  I posted encouragements in the comments with each update, imploring the kitten to pull through. For many weeks they were not sure if the kitten would survive so they didn’t name him, instead just calling him “Mousey” since he resembled a little grey mouse.

As the tiny kitten started to grow, I shared his pictures and updates with my “kitten cam chat friends”. They asked if I would try to adopt him if he survived and in fact, I already expressed my interest in adopting him to my veterinarian. My veterinarian knows me very well as I’ve brought my pets there for many years and, at a minimum, they have annual checkups. Currently, this includes four Animal Friends Of Connecticut cats that were “long term inmates” at the AFOC shelter before I adopted them. I am fortunate that I have a large enough house for them and can financially care for them.

When the kitten was two months old, my veterinarian’s office announced they were taking applications should the kitten survive. Then they announced that the kitten has a severe case of a birth defect called Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH) and that all applicants needed to attend a “meet and greet” with one of the veterinarians to better understand what the kitten’s special needs actually entailed. CH is also known as “wobbly cat syndrome”.

This was the first time I’d ever heard about this defect as many of these kittens are euthanized. Fortunately, the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for research and to reach out to others that know about this disorder. My kitten cam chat friends quickly put me in contact with friends of theirs that cared for, and are guardians of, CH cats. One of them added me to a Facebook group for people that have CH cats and dogs so I could post questions and receive advice. I learned as much as I could about Cerebellar Hypoplasia as I could.
I am a volunteer for Animal Friends Of Connecticut and mentioned the CH kitten to the former AFOC shelter director, Barbara. She quickly urged me to contact another volunteer, Pat, that I knew from the AFOC shelter and events but never knew she had CH cats. I had a long conversation with Pat after which I had some soul searching to do. I wondered if I would be the best guardian for the kitten considering what a commitment this would be. Not only did the kitten have CH, he has a severe case and would most likely never be able to walk. He would need help eating and using his litter box. After great introspection, I made the decision to submit my application for the kitten and was selected to be his guardian. I took all the precautions necessary for a CH cat which are very similar to “baby proofing” a house for an infant human.

I brought “Mousey” home on January 8th, 2016 and named him “Pepino” after a silly song I would listen to over-and-over as a child: Pepino the Italian Mouse by Lou Monte. So many of my friends and people from the veterinarian’s office were interested in updates so I opened a Facebook page for the kitten (Pepino the CH Kitten). 

Finally in a forever home, little Pepino thrived and quickly gained weight. My veterinarian gave me a “walker” she made for him and I’ve made others to fit him as he grew. He learned to use a real litter box though he falls over in it from time-to-time requiring I give him baths. I hold him as he eats so he doesn’t fall over. His food dishes are soft silicone so he doesn’t chip his teeth. At first, my other cats were afraid of him because he didn’t move normally but have become accustom to him and actually play with him. 

Pat, and other CH guardians, told me about the special bond that forms between a guardian and a severe CH cat and they are right. I have strong bonds to all my “cubs” but Pepino is different. It’s a lot of work but I hardly notice anymore. Pepino has no idea he’s disabled or even different. He plays, wants to snuggle in the lap, he purrs when I pick him up, and reaches out with his little paws when he sees me.

In a way, it was time for me to adopt a special needs pet. Barbara often thanks me for adopting what she calls “hard to place” cats from AFOC. It took some time but each one “blossomed” once in their forever home. Fiona, once terrified of people, now runs and plays around the house and sleeps next to me. Dottie has socialized and become a member of “The Pride Cubs”. Betsy and Josie are very happy they were adopted and show their gratitude each day.

There are many wonderful companions in shelters that just need a chance, a little understanding, and some time to adjust. The best thing is there are lots of free resources online and amongst our friends to help us all understand how to introduce a new pet to the family or the requirements of a special needs pet. For example, blind cats do just fine so long as you don’t move the furniture and other things around often. Cats with missing legs can adapt and live happy lives too. Just look up “Lil’ Bunny Sue Roux”, a cat born without front legs that gets around just fine “kangaroo style” and has become an internet sensation. Even mild to moderate CH cats do great with simple accommodations such as a high-sided litter box. 

Many “special” pets can live as long a life as a “normal” pet. In many cases, adopting one can be a 20 year commitment. It’s easy to want to adopt a kitten as cute as Pepino was, overlooking his special needs and what that entails. The most important thing was learning as much as I could about his needs and the commitment I was making. For me, the rewards far outweigh his special needs. It is a commitment I was ready to make and I haven’t regretted it for even a second since.

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