In February, Gail Ventzke got a call about a cat. As one of the founders of Cat’s Cradle, a nonprofit, no-kill cat rescue in Fargo, North Dakota, she gets a lot of calls about cats, primarily from shelters in the area hoping to find homes for animals who might otherwise be euthanized. But this call was different.
"There was a cat that was special-needs and needed to be rescued," Ventzke says. "He had three legs that were crooked, and his back legs were actually pointed backwards and crisscrossed. So of course I said we would take him."
Ventzke set up an appointment at the shelter the next morning to meet with the woman who had called. She never showed. “After about six or eight phone calls to this lady with no response, I just kind of had to let it go and hopefully think that she was going to do the right thing by him,” Ventzke says. “I kind of let it go out of my mind.”
Almost a month later, shelter workers in Moorhead found an unusual stray cat with twisted legs dragging himself down Main Avenue. The shelter workers called Ventzke, and when she saw him, she knew right away he was her special-needs kitty from a month ago.
Ventzke scooped up the kitten she would name Corky and took him straight to North Dakota State University to assess his condition. He turned out to have bilateral arthrogryposis of the tarsus, a bone deformity most commonly seen in cattle, which causes legs to grow backwards and crisscrossed.
“We started thinking, ‘Well, okay, what can we do?’" Ventzke says. "We didn’t think therapy was going to help because it was a bone issue; it wasn’t a tendon issue.”
Research on Corky’s condition led Ventzke to Dan Burchill, a skilled orthopedic surgeon in Casselton. After ensuring that Corky had no neurological impairments, Burchill customized a surgery to flip Corky’s legs around. Initially the procedure was a success, and only a week later Corky began to explore the world for the first time on all fours. But swelling and infection developed, and ultimately Corky’s left leg had to be amputated.
Corky had a total of four surgeries, with the last one in April to insert a steel plate in his right leg. His recovery involved a variety of physical therapies to strengthen his legs and promote healing, and at first he moved slowly and slept a lot. But these days, he’s officially on the mend.
Here’s a video from early July:
"He’s living at my house, and he’s running up and down the stairs, climbing up on my bed, and jumping up on the couch," Ventzke says. "He’s playing with the cats and loving his laser toys. He’s just been really great. Once I got him home and he decided he wanted to try those stairs, I think that was the best therapy he could have had, because now he can just bolt up and down like nobody’s business."
The funds to cover Corky’s medical care came in the form of donations from all over the world; Ventzke did not use a dime of shelter resources. In fact, instead of taking money from the shelter, Corky has had the opposite effect. He has helped to raise funds and awareness for Cat’s Cradle, which has in turn enabled the young shelter, which opened in January 2012, to save hundreds of cats in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo who would have previously been euthanized.
"Everybody knows Cat’s Cradle because of Corky, so he’s kind of our mascot and our voice," Ventzke says. "He’s the voice for the special-needs cats that need help, and to prove that just because they’re not perfect doesn’t mean they’re not worth something."
Corky has also helped Ventzke continue to advocate for the importance of spaying and neutering. From what Ventzke has gathered, Corky’s mother has given birth to 17 litters of kittens.
"Get your cats and dogs spayed and neutered!" Ventzke says. "There are so many animals that need to be rescued every day, and we’ve got irresponsible people carelessly breeding just because they don’t want to pop for the spay or neuter. And don’t shop; adopt. Go to a shelter and rescue a life. Every rescue that you take out of our shelter saves two lives: The one you adopt and the one you open the space for, so we can go pull another out of the pound."
Throughout Corky’s journey, Ventzke has shared videos and photos of Corky’s progress via his Facebook page, where people from all over the world have shown an outpouring of love and support for the little tabby cat. Through his tenacity, he has inspired people -ÔÇô and encouraged them to have fun.
Recently Ventzke offered "paw-tographs," photos of Corky "signed" with his paw print. People have posted photos of their paw-tographs in various locations, such as the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, the White House, and at the Berlin Wall. It has shown Ventzke that people want to be engaged with Corky and know his progress, in many cases because it has encouraged them to keep fighting challenges in their own lives.
"I love the way people have stepped up for him," Ventzke says. "This one little cat has touched so many hearts. Corky has given me the faith in people that a small act can turn a life around, and that every life is worth saving."