It doesn’t take long to realize that blind cats are just like other cats. They run, jump, and play. They can be demanding when they want attention and supremely affectionate when they get it. They chase after crinkle balls, race up cat trees, and go cuckoo for catnip.
Alana Miller sees it happen every day. She has owned and operated the nonprofit Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary in St. Pauls, North Carolina, since 2005. The fact that her blind cats are normal, happy cats is something she would probably scream from a mountaintop if she could. "I don’t know how many times I have to say to people: A blind cat does not know it’s blind," she says. "It knows it’s a cat. It acts like a cat."
Miller volunteered at another area shelter for several years before opening the Blind Cat Rescue. At the time, she never thought she would open a cat shelter of her own; in fact, she only adopted her first cat because her son wanted a pet, and she started volunteering because her teenage daughter needed an adult chaperone. She’d always been more of a dog person, but the day a blind cat arrived at the shelter is the day Miller finally got "sucked in."
"The vet said we should euthanize [the blind cat], because what kind of quality of life is it going to have?" she says. "And I thought, we don’t kill humans because they’re blind; that’s crazy."
Shortly thereafter she took home her first blind kitten, and he "ran, leapt, twirled, and played with toys" just like any other cat. And then the second blind cat came home with her. Word got out, and by the time Miller had four blind kitties living with her, she decided to get her nonprofit designation and "do this for real."
Today the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary, which is located on the grounds of Miller’s farm, houses 93 cats, most of whom are blind. The rest either have FIV or feline leukemia; some are blind and FIV- or FEL-positive. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they would have been euthanized at most traditional shelters. Instead they have the chance for a normal life and a forever home at the Blind Cat Rescue, where they live in colonies of no more than 12 (with separate areas for FIV- and FEL-positive cats) and receive all the TLC, toys, and treats they can manage from the staff and volunteers.
Because many cats at the sanctuary come from situations involving abandonment, abuse, and neglect, they are frequently in poor health with myriad other problems in addition to eye infections and blindness. Miller has gone to great lengths to save the ones who need it. For example, earlier this year, a 14-year-old cat named Abbey arrived at the shelter after being dumped at the pound by her longtime owners. She was suffering from a severe eye infection that blinded her, as well as depression.
"She was just devastated," Miller says. "We ended up putting her on a feeding tube, the whole nine yards. And to watch her finally come back from that depression and find out that it’s okay, and to see her finally eat on her own or play with catnip ÔÇª to see her being a happy cat again and get past that devastation is very rewarding."
Another 10-year-old cat named Gina came to the Blind Cat Rescue all the way from a New York City pound after being dumped by her former owners, who, according to the facility’s paperwork, had kept her for less than a year. Her eyes were rock-hard from severe glaucoma, her teeth were rotten, and she was unspayed. Again, Miller did everything she could to save the ailing cat, and today Gina is "a sweet, loving little girl who is happy and healthy."
Here’s a video of Gina:
Yet another cat named Elle arrived via animal control after being caught in a humane trap. As a stray, Elle had gone blind due to hyperthyroidism, and her fur was so matted she could barely move. Her liver was also failing. With the help of Elle’s foster-caretaker, Miller was able to nurse Elle back to health by putting her on a feeding tube, administering the herb milk thistle to restore liver function, and ensuring she received the eye surgery and antibiotics she needed.
"She’s still alive 14 or 15 months later, happy as a lark, eating real good," Miller says. "She purrs and is a sweet, loving cat. She had to get over that we weren’t going to hurt her, because she’d had bad experiences, and humans were not a good thing. So it was good to watch little miss Elle become a living cat."
While many people might have given up on these cats, Miller was willing to fight for them as long as they were willing to let her.
"An animal that’s ready to die has a look, and once you see it, you know that look," she says. "And [Elle] didn’t have that look. As long as she was wanting to live, I was wanting to keep fighting for her.”
The sanctuary attracts many visitors during its regular open houses, when people from the surrounding community ÔÇô- as well as some who are just passing through -ÔÇô can drop in and interact with the cats, who are always eager for some kind pets and a warm lap. Many visitors are also the cats’ sponsors; Miller provides opportunities for individuals to sponsor specific cats for a monthly fee, which helps cover that cat’s basic needs.
Miller also updates the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary’s Facebook page with photos and videos almost daily, giving everyone the opportunity to understand what Miller already knows: that blind cats deserve the chance to be happy and loved as much as any other cat.
"Watch the videos and you will see them race up climbers, you will see them leaping over toys, you will see them chasing and playing with balls," she says. "They don’t know they’re blind. They just know they’re cats, and they act like cats."