Today I’m happy to feature a guest post from Amanda Maurer, discussing one of my favorite topics: the joys of adopting a special needs pet. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a common condition that- well, wait, I’ll just let her tell you. Enjoy!
Special needs pet owners view their pets as just that: special. They’re an extraordinary group of pets that are often overlooked because they’re different and consquently may have more needs than “normies.” But here’s a secret: They make great pets — especially cats with “CH” or cerebellar hypoplasia.
You see, three years ago I came across a Petfinder profile for a tiny, gray tabby named Scrabble. His picture was precious, but what really grabbed my heart was his story. He was a special needs cat born with cerebellar hypoplasia, a neurological condition that results in clunky fine motor skills because of an underdeveloped cerebellum. His profile said he walked like a drunken sailor and loved playing with plastic ties from frozen orange juice cans. I knew he was the one.
But he was special needs. I’ll admit, it made me hesitate. Could I handle a special needs pet? There was a great deal to learn and consider.
For example, cerebellar hypoplasia isn’t specific to cats. Dogs, other animals and even children can be born with it. It isn’t genetic, rather it’s often caused by the mother contracting a virus while the kittens are in the womb. Trauma to the unborn kittens can also result in cerebellar hypoplasia. After they’re born, it’s common for each kitten to display a different level of CH. Some stumble around like drunken sailors, while others can’t walk at all.
Another characteristic of CH is head tremors, which occur when the cat focuses on something like a toy or food dish. However, CH is not a painful condition and it will never worsen.
After some research, I realized one thing: If I was going to adopt and love any cat, it may as well be one that needed it the most. Less than a week later I adopted Scrabble, now CG for Cary Grant.
But no matter what, CH cats are different. They wobble, they fall. They can make a mess in an instant, whether it’s knocking over the water dish or stepping in an unfortunate pile in the litter box. They can be mega klutzes, which can result in injuries to you and them. Some can’t walk, some can’t jump and others wear diapers. Their needs can range greatly and keep you on your toes.
So why would anyone want to adopt them?
1) They’re charming: Everyone who meets CG immediately recognizes he’s different. “Why does he walk like that?” they often ask. It’ll usually lead to a conversation about his condition, while CG proceeds to wobble into their hearts. What’s lovely about these cats is that they don’t know they’re any different from “normal” cats. They’re simply klutzy, and I think that’s something we can all relate to.
2) They help you appreciate the small things: CH is a nonprogressive condition, which means it’ll never worsen. In fact, many CH cats learn to accomplish their goals in other ways. For example, CG can’t jump well, so I had no idea if he’d ever be able to reach the top of his kitty condo. However, after evaluating the challenge, he climbed the condo like a skillful rockclimber. He continues to climb it to this day. Everyday things that many cats can do may be challenges for CH cats, so there’s a constant sense of accomplishment and pride in your cat as he continues to figure out life in his own way.
3) Many can’t jump: If you’re completely against your cat walking across your countertops, you may want to adopt a CH cat. Since the condition impacts a cat’s coordination, many don’t have the strength or ability to jump.
4) They’re indoor-only cats: If you live in the city or a busy area, these kitties are perfect for you. Many agree that they shouldn’t be let outside (especially unsupervised) because they may not be able to run away or defend themselves properly when in trouble.
5) They’re often overlooked and euthanized: Fortunately this is happening less often thanks to more people learning about CH cats. However, it’s a hard-to-swallow truth as many folks simply don’t want, or can’t afford investing the money and time into a special needs pet. What’s equally as sad is when CH cats are euthanized because people don’t understand CH. They see the cat wobble and automatically assume it’s brain damaged, and therefore should be put down.
Bonus: I couldn’t end on a depressing note, so here’s one more. The sweetness factor: Some owners claim that CH kitties are sweeter than “normies.” While this hasn’t been proven scientifically, I believe it may have something to do with the extra time and attention spent with a CH cat. You quickly pick up on your cat’s signals and needs, which may lead to a strong relationship. I honestly believe it’s true as CG and I have bonded over his accomplishments, cleaning up messes and learning what patience and love really mean.
If you’re interested in learning more about these special cats, feel free to contact me or check out my blog, Life with Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Other great resources include the CH Kitty Club Web site and the CH Kitty Club’s Yahoo Group. They’re all excellent resources supported by an active and passionate community.