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A Ray of Sunshine: A Disable Kitten Brings Joy to All
Written by Crystal Ward Kent
Sometimes it takes a tiny kitten to remind us of the power of a fighting spirit. Ray, as he is now called, was born with a neurological problem that makes his hind legs unworkable and no eyes due to a a condition called Microphthalmia. He is also prone to seizures, but these are now controlled with medication. Despite his limitations, Ray fought to live and today lives with gusto. He plays with toys and is especially fond of those with bells; he purrs blissfully as he kneads his blanket into the perfect bed. He loves his food and treats and a shake of the treat container will have him scooting across the floor at lightening speed. He alternately cuddles with or playfully bats the cat friends who share his home and he thinks a good head scratch is amazing. Ray also loves music, especially old classics, and in fact, is named in honor of legendary musician Ray Charles. When his mom puts on his favorite tunes, his little head turns and you can see him relax into a state of contentment. Life is good for Ray, but things easily might have gone the other way.
Carrie Barron of Rye, New Hampshire is Ray’s mom. She has adored animals since childhood so it was no surprise that as an adult she would quickly discover the joys of fostering and adopting rescues. She has now fostered 16 kittens as well as adult cats and she and her partner are blessed with a cat family of nine, many of them former foster “children.” She was on Facebook when she saw a “Like” for The Odd Cat Sanctuary in Salem, Massachusetts and quickly became intrigued. The Odd Cat Sanctuary (see sidebar) specializes in taking in and finding homes for cats with special needs, senior cats and cats from high kill shelters. Carrie was especially taken by the story of Jason, a young, semi-feral cat who had been beaten and suffered a broken jaw. Numerous vets recommended that Jason be put down, but Tara (last name withheld), founder of Odd Cat, saw how he still purred and ate voraciously despite his injury. She vowed to give him a chance. Jason did live and when he needed fostering, Carrie stepped in. She quickly fell in love and Jason, now called Finn, became family.
When The Odd Cat Sanctuary called about a tiny disabled kitten needing fostering, Carrie and her partner, Ryan, did not hesitate to say “yes” even though a surprise was in store. “We knew he was blind, but had not realized that he could not walk and still needed to be bottle fed,” says Carrie. “I got him home and then was really scared because I wasn’t sure I could give him the proper care. I had never cared for an animal so young and with so many issues. I went out to get more supplies and when I came home, Ryan had him wrapped in a blanket and was feeding him. Ray was so happy. He was purring up a storm and we both knew then and there that he was ours and we would do anything to help him have a good life.”
Ray’s leg disability cannot be fixed. It stems from a developmental spinal issue near his shoulders. He can feel his legs, but they will not move separately, so no walking motion is possible. If he tries to move one, they both move. Vets are not sure what caused the problem, but suspect his mother was exposed to a virus while carrying Ray, who was an only kitten. Despite his limitations, Carrie notes that Ray has no trouble maneuvering around their home and does not look for help. “We have made sure that there are no hard edges in the home and all of the stairways are blocked,” she says. “He has learned the layout of the house and at night, sleeps in my office. He has his choice of beds–a floor blanket, a bed, and my sofa which he can climb up on. His front paws are very strong.”
Ray can be shy when strangers first arrive or if there is something new going on in the home. However, once he gets acclimated to the new person or activity, he is fine and welcomes attention. “He is not fearful at all,” says Carrie, proudly. “We had a carpenter here doing some work and at first, Ray was leery of this new person in the house, but after a day or two, he knew who he was and actually followed him around! The carpenter said Ray was his little helper because while he was in there hammering and using a nail gun Ray was laying right next to him! He didn’t mind the noise at all!”
Carrie’s other cats look out for Ray, but also treat him like one of the pride. Penny, a lovely dark tortoiseshell, was the first to cuddle him as a kitten, and Charlie, also a rescue, is what Carrie calls his “First Responder Cat.” “Charlie is the first to sound the alarm if Ray has a seizure or is sick or scared,” says Carrie. “He meows loudly and comes and gets us. He’s a good friend to Ray.”
Students at Portsmouth (NH) Junior High School used a 3D printer last year to build Ray a cart for his hind legs in an effort to give him more mobility. He has outgrown the first two carts and will now need a third, but Carrie says he moves really fast with just his scooting motion.
Nurturing a special needs cat is not without its challenges but the rewards are innumerable.
“Having Ray has changed our lives–but for the better,” says Carrie. “I now work from home and spend more time at home in general because I need to check on him. But I don’t mind–in many ways, life has slowed down more because of Ray and the cats. We keep a calmer household because of them and that benefits us. We really appreciate every day with him and it’s taught us the value of living day to day. When he’s happy and cuddled up with us, and the other cats are lounging nearby, all is right with the world.”
Ray most likely would not have been adopted so Carrie and Ryan are aware that their agreeing to be his parents saved his life, but Carrie is adamant that Ray, in turn, has given them so much more. “Adopting Ray has been the most remarkable thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “He literally made my heart expand with love. He’s made us both better people. For a tiny kitten, he’s a powerful force!” *
Fostering/Adopting a Special Needs Cat
Carrie found a lot of support networks through Instagram and still connects with fellow cat lovers to share information about how to best support cats with special needs. The Odd Cat Sanctuary is another resource, as is Handicapped Pets of Amherst, New Hampshire which offers a range of products for disabled pets (www.handicappedpets.com). They also have a foundation which provides assistance.
Special needs pets may require some modifications to your home or lifestyle, but often just a few minor adjustments can create a safe environment. The resources mentioned above can help you assess what might be needed and your veterinarian, as well as cat behaviorists, can also help.
Sometimes, other pets will also be wonderful aids to the disabled pet, becoming their eyes or ears or just a comforting friend.
Special needs pets do typically require more veterinarian care, but many shelters strive to cover vet bills for pre-existing conditions in order to ensure that these deserving animals get good homes.