There’s no doubt that Little Bear is a happy little black cat. His Facebook photos and videos show a kitten with sleek fur and striking yellow-green eyes. He’s a curious, healthy rescue kitten who gets lots of love, loves to play, and (perhaps) has a bit of a naughty streak.
“He is very unique and special,” says his owner, Allie O’Sullivan. “He loves life, and he is always purring.”
Despite his obvious joie de vivre, Little Bear also suffers from significant physical deformities. His rear legs are backward — his left foot should be his right, and vice versa — and he has six toes on one foot. His tail is also crooked and shorter than average. But his front leg deformities are the most severe. Each paw has only three toes and faces inward, making Little Bear look as though he’s giving himself a hug. When he walks, he scoots along on his wrists.
In addition to the difficulty of getting around, Little Bear has to cope with a number of health problems, mainly the extra pressure on his heart and lungs, which could considerably shorten his lifespan. It’s common in cats with his type of deformity.
Like many special-needs kitties, Little Bear might have been euthanized if O’Sullivan had not rescued him from a shelter in New Hampshire. His siblings had similar deformities, but Little Bear’s were the most extreme. O’Sullivan is an experienced pet owner — she has three other cats and two dogs, but she always knew she wanted to “give a special-needs animal a great life.” The moment she saw Little Bear, she knew he was the one.
“They took him out and showed me his legs,” she says. “It broke my heart. I have never felt so much for an animal. He stole my heart immediately. He was the last cat from his litter to be adopted.”
O’Sullivan “turned her home around” to accommodate Little Bear and make sure he was comfortable. And she got lots of help from the community that rallied around her special kitten online. Because he walks on his wrists instead of his paws, he is prone to sores, so some of his Facebook fans made him leggings. In typical cat fashion, however, “he is stubborn and refuses to wear them,” O’Sullivan says.
For the most part, Little Bear gets around well enough on his own, but he is not even one year old, so his ambitions frequently exceed his physical limitations. When he’s feeling feisty, he’ll often tease one of his feline or canine siblings. In these moments, he is just like any other cat. Lucky for Little Bear, O’Sullivan is there to help when he finds himself in a bind after getting overzealous in his attempts at jumping or climbing.
“He can jump on tables and beds, but can’t jump down,” O’Sullivan says. “I have to pick him up and put him on the floor so that he doesn’t injure himself.”
Because she adopted Little Bear from a shelter, O’Sullivan doesn’t know if he was bred to look the way he does. But some cats — called “twisty cats” or “squittens,” because they are said to resemble squirrels — are bred to have unusually short front legs and longer hind legs. These cats often struggle with mobility issues and health concerns similar to the challenges Little Bear faces.
“It is very cruel to breed an animal that way, because it causes them pain and suffering,” O’Sullivan says.
O’Sullivan hopes to raise awareness for special-needs pets and advocate against irresponsible breeding — and she’s getting a prime opportunity when Little Bear graces the cover of Modern Cat magazine. He won the cover contest in January, thanks to thousands of votes from his more than 10,000 Facebook fans (join them here), as well as others who have been touched by his story.
Most importantly, O’Sullivan wants people who hear Little Bear’s story to understand that special-needs animals make amazing companions.
“Animals with deformities should not be euthanized,” she says. “They make great pets, and they make you respect life on a whole new level. They know how to make you happy and cheer you up. It is impossible to be in a bad mood around Little Bear.”
To improve his quality of life and hopefully extend his lifespan by removing pressure from his heart and lungs, Little Bear will undergo surgery at Tufts University in April. According to O’Sullivan, they will fuse his legs to straighten them, and he will receive physical therapy and other treatments to learn to walk on his paws.
Whatever challenges lie ahead for Little Bear, O’Sullivan is ready and willing to help him face them.
“Not only have we given Little Bear a better life, but he has given my family a better life,” she says. “He makes us so happy, and he is so sweet. He has so many fans, and I am so happy to share our experience with the world.”
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