Talk to anyone who’s spent time with a special-needs cat and you’ll hear a common refrain: Appearance aside, they’re just like any other cat.
San Francisco-based photographer Josh Norem, also known as the Furrtographer, has spent the last three years taking pictures of special-needs cats. During his many years in animal rescue, Norem has adopted several blind cats of his own. His main goal is to help adoptable pets find homes — particularly the ones who may be considered “less adoptable” due to their disabilities.
“I got started because I had my own blind cats and knew how amazing and awesome they were/are,” Norem says. “When I heard there was a rescue in San Francisco with blind and deformed kittens, I figured good pictures of them would help them find homes.”
Turns out Norem was right: “Every single special-needs cat I have ever photographed has been adopted, with just one exception, out of hundreds,” Norem says. “That’s a pretty good average!”
Norem’s pictures warm our hearts because of their subjects’ tenacity. Despite stories that are often full of abuse, illness, and neglect, these cats still strive to connect with humans. They are still capable of love. And, like anyone involved in animal rescue will tell you, they’re not so different from any “regular” cat.
“I’ve learned they are just like regular cats in every way possible,” Norem says. “I’ve met cats that are blind but love to play with string, or cats with deformed paws that love to chase after toys. It is really amazing how well they can adapt, and also not really seem to even know they are ‘special.'”
The strength and resilience of special-needs cats is apparent in Norem’s photographs. One of his favorite subjects, a cat named Carmen, had her ears and ear canals removed due to tumors. Despite this invasive and life-altering procedure, Carmen still had plenty of love to give — but unfortunately, she passed away a year and a half after her surgery.
“She was the most unique cat I have ever met and had an incredibly strong spirit,” Norem says.
Saving Grace Rescue, one of the shelters Norem works with, primarily focuses on rescuing stray and feral kittens in the San Francisco Bay Area. Each spring, “kitten season” kicks into high gear, leaving the shelter filled to capacity with cats in need of homes.
Saving Grace founder Amber Holly told Catster in 2013 that finding enough fosters who can care for bottle babies and keeping up with the demand for supplies are among the greatest challenges of kitten season. During kitten season, eight to 15 volunteers care for upwards of 20 kittens at a time.
Over the years, Saving Grace Rescue has found homes for more than 700 kittens — and for many of those lucky cats, Norem’s photographs have been a deciding factor. For proof, just check out Saving Grace’s Facebook page, where “glamour shots” of an adorable, black kitten named Oscar recently got more than 500 likes.
Oscar may have mildly deformed front legs and be missing an eye, but instead of his disabilities, the photograph highlights the kitten’s curious, friendly personality. It looks like he’s ready to jump onto your lap at any minute, full of purrs and headbutts.
“[I want] to help them find homes,” Norem says. “And hopefully have people look at the photo and think, ‘What a beautiful cat’ and look past their ‘unique’ appearance.”
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.