Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
An overcrowded city shelter is no place for a very young kitten, especially if he is “different.” The tiny orange tabby was alone, scared, and most at risk of not making it out of the facility alive. He already had two strikes against him: He was surrendered by his owner, and he had a deformed front leg. There would be no time allotted for a so-called “stray hold” — no one was looking to be reunited with him.
His afflicted appendage was a quarter the size of a normal leg and useless. His deformity, believed to be caused by a birth defect, could scare potential adopters away: Even if he was ambulatory, his ongoing care could prove costly. But this shelter has a streamlined protocol to help place its animals, working exclusively with other animal rescue groups and quickly posting its charges to social media sites. This collaborative practice would give this kitten the advantage he needed in securing a second chance at a great life.
Amy Hofer, founder of A Pathway to Hope in northern New Jersey, was eating dinner when the image of the kitten came through on her phone. She saw past his shrimp-shaped leg and right into his beseeching blue eyes. She was on her way. Her foster-based organization is dedicated to helping hard luck cases.
“I have a soft spot for special-needs animals,” Amy said. “We take the cats no one else will touch.”
When Amy arrived at the shelter she got her first surprise. She’d been told the kittens age was three months, but it was really six weeks. She got her second surprise when she got him home and put him on the ground. He didn’t know how to walk. Wherever he was for his first few weeks of life, he was most likely confined and not able to exercise. He sat back like a kangaroo and waited.
“We’re not going to carry you,” Amy told him.
With the whole family coaxing him on, the kitten took his first steps toward his future forever home.
For the next few weeks, the kitten grew more confident and mobile. Amy’s organization also rescues dogs, and the small cat was right at home within the mixed-species family setting. They named him Spartan. He was small in stature but big in spirit.
When Amy and her family left for vacation, Spartan needed other accommodations. Amy asked Janice Daut to foster him. Janice had adopted her dog, Norton, from Amy and was potentially a good fit for Spartan, too. Janice was shocked that no one had adopted the adorable kitten and agreed to foster him. She had watched his story on Facebook, and while she wasn’t ready to adopt a cat, she had sent a donation. Much like Amy, she felt an immediate connection the moment she saw his face.
He hid for about a week before becoming acclimated enough to explore Janice’s home. Spartan’s very presence was unsettling to Norton. The 75-pound Husky/Labrador mix was scared to death of the four-pound feline and hid in Janice’s bedroom. While Janice loved Spartan, she wasn’t sure whether Norton would accept him, or whether he would ever warm up to her.
Their second week together ushered in a turning point: Spartan was out and about and biting her ankles. The day she came home from work and found Spartan in her bedroom and Norton near Spartan’s bed, she knew he was staying.
“He gets around beautifully. You wouldn’t know he’s only got three legs,” Janice said.
Spartan delights his family with their favorite pastime, a rousing game of fetch.
“We’ve got to play for a few hours; we have to tire him out,” Janice said.
A few years ago, Spartan could have become another part of a sad statistic. But today, thanks to a dedicated network of compassionate people, Spartan is the new face of special needs: handsome, fearless, and just plain special.
See more of the rescue animals at A Pathway to Hope by following the organization on Facebook.
About the author: Denise LeBeau is an award-winning essayist, writer, editor, and self-professed poet laureate of the pet set. For the past seven years, she has written full-time for an animal welfare organization. She shares her home in Hampton Bays, New York, with two rescued Siamese cats, Flipper and Slayer, and two rescued moocher mutts, Parker and Zephyrella. Connect with her on Facebook.