I met Calvin, Daisy and Rosie (The Tippy Tuxies) at their adoption photo shoot. My cat of 19 years, Kitty Wampus, who was also a tuxedo cat, had passed away a few days before. Photo days are like a kitten party so I was really looking forward to a little “kitten therapy”. Basically I play with kittens while taking their pictures. On July 16, 2016, The Tippy Tuxies came in for photos. They were being fostered by Linda, another Feline Rescue volunteer. I saw a glimpse of them in their carriers so I knew there were tuxedo kittens but I still wasn’t prepared for their resemblance to Kitty Wampus. Rosie and Daisy had nearly the exact same markings.
The Tippy Tuxies have that name because they were born with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH). I’ve photographed a few kittens with CH before so I knew CH kitties can be rather difficult to photograph. Their heads wobble and they tend to have erratic movements, so sometimes it can be harder to get clear photos of them. Rosie and Calvin mainly seemed to have some fancy footwork but were otherwise normal kittens. Calvin walks with a high-step that looks like a trot or a prance. It was so adorable! They fell over a little bit, but they were mostly just sweet, charming and adorable kittens. Daisy, however, couldn’t walk or stand without leaning on something.
A little bit about Cerebellar Hypoplasia
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) is a non-progressive, non-contagious neurological condition that results in walking and balance problems. A kitten is born with CH when her cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills and coordination, is underdeveloped at birth. Consequently, an underdeveloped cerebellum can result in underdeveloped or complicated mobility. CH cats are known for their “drunken sailor” walk, which is why they’re known endearingly as “wobbly cats.” Since the condition is non-progressive, it will never get worse — and in some cases, owners say that their cat became more capable over time [as they learn to adapt to their disability and develop muscles]. Source: lifewithchcats.com
Shortly after this photo was taken, Daisy crawled into my lap. It took so much work for her to get there since she wasn’t able to walk at the time. The sweetness of that moment and her resemblance to Kitty Wampus brought me to tears. I then had to explain to Linda why I started crying. We talked a little bit about my recent loss, and these new kittens and we agreed that I would foster the three of them when Linda was planning to be out of town at the beginning of August. On my way home that same day, I stopped and bought them a scratching post and a few new toys for when they came to my house.
When I started fostering this trio, my goal was to get all of them adopted together. Rosie and Calvin were extremely bonded, and although Daisy was more independent, I thought it would be better for her to stay with her siblings. Although, I’m pretty sure most of the foster volunteers were already placing bets about my impending “foster fail,” I think the moment I knew was on August 9, when Paul and TJ from the Engineer’s Guide to Cats were at Feline Rescue on the day of the Cat Video Festival. I brought the trio in for the open house, and I was being asked when they’d be available for adoption. I didn’t like the idea that they might be leaving me someday!
After Kitty passed away, I didn’t think I would be ready to adopt for several months. However, I was open to the idea of foster failing and welcoming new cats into my home. But I had only planned to adopt a pair. The Tippy Tuxies helped me heal so much, and the three of them were so perfect together, I didn’t debate too long about adopting the three of them. Rosie and Daisy were a little bit underweight, so we waited until September to do their spay and neuter surgeries. I adopted them shortly after that.
National Specially-abled Pets Day is May 3 so I wanted to share some information on what it’s like to live with animals who would be labeled as “special needs.”
Cats with CH do require some special considerations, but to what extent can vary from cat to cat. Even cats in the same litter can be affected differently. The Tippy Tuxies had siblings that were not affected at all. Calvin and Rosie walk and run pretty well, but Calvin can’t jump at all, and Rosie can only jump a little bit. She’s good at jumping up to the couch, for example, but the bed is a little too high so she climbs. It helps that I have carpet thoughout most of my home. This gives them traction and helps reduce their spills and also provide a little extra padding for when they do fall. For Daisy, that carpet is essential because she needs it for traction. She is not strong enough or balanced enough to walk very well on slippery surfaces.
They have stairs to get up to the bed and a tray under their water bowl to catch spills. Their litter boxes have high sides and a low entry to make it easy to get in, but also for them to lean against if they need to. I found a cat tower that has levels that are closer together and easier for them to climb to the top, and also isn’t too high, so that if they fall off (or jump from the top like Rosie does), they won’t get hurt. And I try a little harder to find activities to keep them engaged. Especially for Daisy who can’t burn energy by running chasing her siblings around, it’s critical to find activities that help her develop muscle and keep her mentally stimulated.
Daisy’s walking has improved quite a bit since they first came to me. She was only able to walk while leaning against walls or furniture. Now she can take several steps at a time in the middle of the room without support. Another Feline Rescue volunteer, Caia, helped build a special walker for Daisy out of PVC pipe and wheels that we found instructions to make kitties on YouTube. Daisy used it a couple times for physical therapy, but later made it known that she had no intentions of being strapped into a glorified wheel chair. So I started just making her physical therapy a game by getting her to chase toys and the laser light to work on getting her strong enough to stand and walk on her own.
Walking still pretty hard for her, it takes all of her concentration to balance, take a step, and even just stand without support. It’s possible and even likely her walking skills will continue to improve over the next few months. I have hopes that she’ll be able to move around without tumbling over every few steps.
All three of The Tippy Tuxies live like otherwise normal cats. They get to the litter box just fine, can eat and drink without assistance and can play and wrestle with the best of them. They are three extremely loving and sweet cats who’s fun personalities more than make up for any perceived burden of having a special needs pet (let alone three). Plus, they’re really great about posing for photos!
In honor of National Specially-abled Pets Day, May 3, please spread the word about how truly wonderful pets with “special” features can be!
Story and photos by Kris Kaiser