He was born on the Fourth of July, but for the first nine months of his life, Timmy the cat was hardly living the American dream. He was stuck in a dirty, overcrowded apartment that wasn’t big enough for all the people and animals crammed into it. His challenging situation was made worse because of his limited mobility. His front legs bent in at the elbows, causing him to slide and skid more than walk. In an apartment with so many human feet crashing down around him, Timmy seemed to think it best to stay out of the way as much as possible. That’s how Laura Carlson of Harbor Hope Cat Rescue in Gig Harbour, Washington, found Timmy — hiding behind a water heater with his ears pulled back in fear.
“I had got a call about Timmy,” Carlson explains. The caller was a person who had gone into the apartment to help get spay and neuter surgeries for several of the animals inside.
“She said something’s wrong with this cat,” Carlson recalls. “He has strange front legs, they were telling me.”
The caller reached out to Carlson because of her reputation as a savior of injured, ill, disabled, and special needs cats. As the founder of Harbor Hope, Carlson has committed her life to helping cats who might otherwise be euthanized. When she saw Timmy cowering behind the water heater, she knew she would do everything in her power to make him as healthy and happy as possible.
As she left the apartment with the crippled kitten, a young teenager asked Carlson to make sure no one would ever hit or kick Timmy, or call him bad names. The teen didn’t need to worry — Timmy was being whisked off to the Harbor Hope Cat Rescue shelter, where he would be safe and cared for.
As he entered the shelter, Timmy was tested for feline leukemia and FIV, as all the Harbour Hope cats are. He was neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and taken to see a pair of orthopedic surgeons at Summit Veterinary Referral in Tacoma.
“They said that he was born without his radius bones, which is the weight-bearing bones in the front legs,” Carlson explains.
Timmy’s body had tried to compensate by growing larger-than-normal ulna bones, which are the other bones in a cat’s forelegs, causing his legs to bend inwards. According to Carlson, Timmy’s doctors embraced his challenging case.
“They both just went the distance for Timmy. They even ordered these removable splints from a company back in Virginia that usually makes them for dogs.”
Meanwhile, Carlson was falling more and more in love with the funny little cat. Although she had initially planned to keep him at the shelter until he was healthy enough for adoption, she eventually decided Timmy just had to come home with her. She had a hole in her home, as she had just lost two of her own cats to cancer. One of those cats was Baci, Carlson’s first special needs kitty and the one who had prompted her to start Harbour Hope at the dawn of the millennium.
Baci had come to Carlson back then as a sick foster kitten through another organization. Carlson was feeling him with an eyedropper when the rescue told her they wanted to euthanize Baci, his three siblings, and their mom. Carlson refused, kept the cats and stared her rescue. Fifteen years later, she was freshly grieving for Baci when Timmy came into the shelter and cheered her up with his sense of humor.
“I just thought, life’s too short. So I paid the rescue back for all of Timmy’s medical expenses, and I moved him into my house.”
Once he was living in her home, Timmy’s mobility improved through the use of splints.
“We slowly rotated his front legs so that they were in kind of a more normal position. Now he kind of walks on his wrists, so he’s more upright,” says Carlson. “He has really thrived.”
According to Carlson, Timmy gets along great with her other six cats, all of whom have special needs, and brings a unique sense of humor to the clowder.
“He’s a funny little guy. He will fetch things, and he carries things around in his mouth, and he’s friends with all the other cats.”
Because all the volunteers at Harbour Hope are school children, Carlson uses Timmy’s story to teach the next generation of cat guardians about resiliency and the importance of always considering rehabilitation before euthanasia.
“These kind of cats are important in our lives and our world. I really hope these kids can see these cats with disabilities and know that they’re overcoming them,” she explains. “Timmy’s going to live a long, healthy, normal life.”