Tales of two cats who have overcome their disabilities.

C Stott, S Hartwell

Stumpy was born without proper back legs. Her tale is one of triumph over disability. Stumpy was one of two kittens taken to the local Cats Protection shelter in 1995. The woman warned the warden that one of the kittens was disabled, but didn't say how badly. When Chris saw the kitten, she decided at once to adopt her. Chris knows what it is like to have a disability - her spine is crumbling, she wears a neck brace and she has multiple sclerosis. Although Stumpy's future looked bleak, but Chris decided that the cat could still have a happy and active life - just like her disabled owner. Stumpy was only 12 weeks old and a lot of people thought she should be euthanized.

Stumpy was born with incomplete back legs. One leg ends at the hock joint and the other is just a little longer. The long leg is deceptive - it looks like it has a hock joint, but it is actually a knee joint (the one higher up the leg) which is bending the wrong way. She doesn't have any back paws, just calluses where the bones end. Using her longer stump, she can stand, walk and run while the short stump wiggles about uselessly. Chris already had five cats and stumpy got on especially well with the two younger cats. She joined in the rough and tumble games and often won because she was bigger than them. When the other cats play too hard, Stumpy climbs to the top of a chair-back to have a time-out.

Stumpy's legs are not the whole story. At eight months old, Stumpy had not matured sexually. She also has a scabby skin due to hormone problems. This can make her very itchy and Chris is often accused of not controlling fleas properly. Unable to scratch her neck, Stumpy relies on Chris to scratch neck, chin, ears and face when they get too itchy. Chris scratches the irritating spot and Stumpy waggles a back stump! Tea Tree oil has helped, but Stumpy still has scabby weeks.

Stumpy is an indoor cat since she can't escape from danger and also because well-meaning people might not understand that she is a happy cat and not one which has just dragged itself away from an accident scene. She can't run, jump or bound, but she can climb using her strong front legs and using her longer stump as a prop to push herself upwards. Sometimes she gets over-enthusiastic and makes the stump bleed. Because she can't stand for long, she watches life from a chair-back and doesn't show any sign of frustration; after all, she has never known anything different in life.

Chris arranged for Stumpy to have spay surgery (partly to find out what state her insides were in) and to have one of the stumps tidied up where the bone was in danger of pushing through the skin. The uterus was only partly formed and Stumpy's reproductive system was still immature. Chris also arranged to have her back garden completely enclosed so that her cats can outside in safety for short periods of time. Stumpy is always supervised on her occasional outings.

Many people thought that Stumpy should have been euthanized as a kitten, but anyone who has seen her hop about or rough and tumble with other cats knows that she is a normal, happy little cat, albeit one with only two and a bit legs. The vet said that as long as she was not in pain or distress, there was no reason to euthanize her. After all, would those people want to euthanize Chris because she is disable.

Chris adores all her cats and is devoted to her two-legged cat. Chris herself is facing an uncertain future and is becoming more dependent on a motorised wheelchair and pain control, but Stumpy is well-loved and well cared for. The cats give Chris something to live for.


Sarah Hartwell

Nobody held out much hope for the pretty calico cat one of our Humane Society officers had just taken to the vet's clinic one day in 1995. The cat had been found dragging a leg-hold trap (sometimes set to trap foxes despite the fact that these barbaric devices are completely illegal in Britain). The trapped forepaw was almost severed just below the dew-claw and all the flesh appeared to have been stripped from one of the cat's hind legs so that only blood-covered bone remained below the hock.

At first we thought she had dragged herself out of one trap and then stumbled into another one. We'd heard of animals gnawing legs off to escape from traps; this looked as if she'd gnawed all the flesh off of her back leg or as if it had been pulled off by the jaws of the trap like rolling back a shirt sleeve.

We decided to call the cat 'Twinkle' as she would need all the lucky stars there were. The vet would have to remove the trap from the cat's leg under anesthetic, but there was no way that the forepaw could be saved and since Twinkle had already lost most of her hind leg it seemed likely that she had used up all of her nine lives.

Although leghold traps are supposed to be illegal here, the vet was familiar with the awful injuries they could inflict on cats. These made amputation necessary in most cases. However, Twinkle's hideously injured hind leg made it impossible for him to amputate the trapped foreleg, but the cat looked too healthy to be euthanized. Twinkle was fit and even a little plump and the only blood was from her lacerated forepaw and from her mouth where she had bitten at the trap. There was very little blood on the hind leg and it looked to be an old injury which had healed and left Twinkle walking around on the knobby end of the exposed legbone. He was surprised that she had survived such an injury and decided that such a resilient cat deserved a chance.

Under general anesthetic, the vet removed the damaged foot just below the dew claw, leaving the calico cat with a shortened front leg that would allow her to remain mobile if the back leg had to be removed. He then turned his attention to the hind leg and rinsed away the dirt and blood clinging to the bone.

Rather than being stripped to the bone as first thought, the hind leg was mummified from hock to toe. The fur had hardened to a texture like rhino horn with just one or two tufts between the exposed bones of the toes. Since the leg was full-sized, the mummification process had happened sometime during adulthood and left the cat with only minor disabilities. Her pirate-style 'peg-leg' would allow her to walk, run and jump, but not climb. The vet was surprised that Twinkle had not died of blood-poisoning when the leg became mummified. The bone felt light and seemed fragile, but it was evidently strong enough for Twinkle to use.

Twinkle's friendliness and good physical condition meant she was probably somebody's pet and had probably been spayed so he didn't put her through the additional stress of performing an unnecessary spaying procedure. The vet felt certain that the owner would soon be contacting neighborhood vets and animal shelters reporting the loss of this distinctive cat. She became quite a celebrity at the vet's office and was examined by several vets who had never encountered the peculiar deformity before. However, there were no reports of such a distinctive cat being lost and it seemed that no vets in the area had dealt with this cat and her peculiar injury.

Twinkle recovered well from surgery, but nobody reported losing a pretty calico with a peg-leg so she was released to a local animal shelter. If she was still unclaimed after 2 weeks she would be made available for adoption, though few people would be attracted to such a disfigured cat when there were plenty of perfectly formed kittens needing homes.

Knowing this, one of the shelter helpers provisionally adopted Twinkle the same day the cat arrived at the shelter. Twinkle still had to remain at the shelter for the regulation 14 days in case her owners came searching. Many shelter staff had to overcome their revulsion before handling Twinkle, so it became this person's special duty to feed, clean and groom the maimed cat so that Twinkle would settle in much faster when taken home.

By the time the two weeks were up, no fewer than 10 people had fallen in love with the personality cat with the peg-leg and asked to adopt her. The adopter had initially reserved Twinkle out of pity and was not going to give her up. Since no-one claimed the cat as their missing pet, she took Twinkle home.

A couple of weeks after being taken home, Twinkle had a surprise in store for her rescuers. She was pregnant, something several vets and the animal shelter staff had not noticed! The vet was certain that the hindleg deformity was not hereditary and it would be safe for Twinkle to have her kittens. The alternative was to spay-and-abort, which he felt would be rather traumatic for the cat.

All Twinkle's many friends were worried that the kittens would be abnormal or had been affected by the general anesthetic administered when Twinkle's paw was amputated. Some felt that the extra weight during the later stages of pregnancy might put an unacceptable strain on the mummified hindleg. Luckily, the fears were unfounded as Twinkle proved an excellent mother and raised a litter of perfectly normal kittens, after which she was immediately spayed.

Despite having only three and three-quarter legs and only two paws, Twinkle is an active fun-loving cats who loves to frolic and to burrow in your clothing. When she kneads you with her stump and treads you with her bony leg it is a very odd feeling. Most people are tempted to treat her over-carefully in case that bony back leg snaps like a dry stick. Twinkle doesn't realise that she's disabled and once people get over the initial shock they forget that there's anything different about the pretty calico with the slight limp.

Twinkle produced five darling kittens, three ginger and two black and white and all normal. Despite the problems of only having three and three quarter legs, she was a perfect mother. In fact Twinkle loved all kittens. After her own kittens were weaned and went to new homes, her owner took in some motherless kittens and Twinkle washed and cared for them as though they were her own.

At first it seemed that pregnancy and kittening had not had any adverse effects on her physical condition. After her five kittens were weaned, it was noticed that the demands of motherhood had put an additional strain on Twinkle's body, particularly her "peg-leg". Where the mummified part of her limb met with normal flesh there were signs of infection which ordinary antibiotics could not solve and there was a real danger of blood poisoning or gangrene if it was not treated.

To save Twinkle's life, the veterinarian decided to amputate the leg, leaving Twinkle with only two and three quarter legs. Even if Twinkle had not had kittens, this would probably have happened eventually. Twinkle had already undergone spay surgery to ensure that she did not have any more kittens (sterilisation is a condition of the adoption contract). With a diminishing number of legs, it would have been dangerous to allow another pregnancy as her body would not have coped.

Without her "peg-leg" for support, it is a little harder for Twinkle to get around and cavort as other cats do. She moves with a lopsided gait as one foreleg is shorter than the other. Sometimes her front stump gets sore as there are no paw pads, only scar tissue. Despite her physical problems, Twinkle is still an active, happy cat who loves people and washes any kittens she can find. She has survived an illegal trap, the amputation of a front paw, a pregnancy when the odds were against her, a life-threatening infection and the amputation of a hind leg. She had also survived whatever illness or injury damaged her hind leg. You might expect this calico survivor to be grouchy or bitter, but she has come through it all with a purr and a head-butt. Everyone who has met her says she is a true survivor!