At 8 months old, Lincoln is just like any other fluffy, black kitten. He looks adorable in bow ties, and he loves to run and play. He is also outgoing and calm, walks enthusiastically on a harness, and enjoys a good adventure — at least, as long as his adoptive mama is close by. In fact, he marched alongside his mama and several dogs in a Mardi Gras parade last winter.
Looking at Lincoln today, no one would guess that when he was four weeks old, he was quadriplegic. A woman found the paralyzed kitten on a sidewalk in St. Louis, Missouri. He could barely lift his head, and he was unable to move any of his limbs.
Many rescue groups thought the cat’s situation was hopeless and felt he should be euthanized. The only rescue that would take him was Tenth Life, a St. Louis shelter dedicated to rescuing special-needs animals.
Bobbi Hale, a regular Tenth Life volunteer and kitty foster parent, answered the call about Lincoln. Hale had several fosters at home already, but she agreed to pick up Lincoln and transport him to the vet’s office. She had expected to find a kitten with relatively minor injuries — maybe a broken paw. What she found was far worse.
"I was the first one who saw him in the condition he was in, and it was a lot more drastic than we were expecting," Hale says. "The lady that called said he might have a broken paw, and what I found was a four-week-old kitten lying on his side that couldn’t move any of his limbs at all."
X-rays done at the vet’s office determined that Lincoln had no broken bones, meaning his paralysis was likely caused by a spinal or neurological injury that could have been the result of a dog attack, an accident, or human cruelty — Hale will never know. Though Lincoln could not move his limbs, he still had sensation, so there was hope he might walk again.
In the meantime, he would require round-the-clock care. Hale’s boyfriend works from home, so one of them is always there — and it just made sense for them to foster Lincoln. When Hale first brought Lincoln home, he required assistance with all of his basic needs.
"In the beginning, we had to hold him up and put a plate of food right under his mouth so he could eat," she says. "And afterward we would have to help him go to the bathroom. We would take him over to the litter box."
Hale and her boyfriend also did physical therapy exercises with Lincoln up to six times a day. To get him used to standing on his feet, Hale rolled up two towels and placed them on either side of a cat bed so Lincoln could be propped between them with his paws flat on the ground. Hale wanted to do everything she could to give Lincoln a chance, but that didn’t stop her from worrying.
"It was going through my head: What if he never has any movement?" Hale says. "Could we tote him around his whole life? Would his quality of life still be good? But luckily it didn’t come to that."
Lincoln eventually started holding up his own weight while propped between the towels in the cat bed. Then, when he was six weeks old, he took his first steps — followed, in typical cat fashion, by a nap. Once he’d started walking, Lincoln never slowed down.
"For a while I was like, OK, he might walk, but he’ll probably never run like a kitten," Hale says. "And then after a couple of weeks, he was running, and I was like, OK, he runs, but maybe he’ll never be a climber or jump on things. And then a few weeks later, he was climbing and jumping. He’s exceeded any expectations we could have had."
Here’s a video of Lincoln taking his first steps:
Naturally, after sharing such an experience, Hale and Lincoln became inseparable, and she decided to go from fostering him to permanently adopting him. Even her other cats, who had been wary and territorial around other fosters, immediately warmed up to Lincoln and would groom and care for him.
"I fell in love with the little kitten nugget," she says. "He’s my heart. My soulmate might be in the form of a little cat."
Lincoln’s journey has inspired Hale as well as the cat’s many Facebook friends — join them here. But none of it would have happened if Hale hadn’t given Lincoln a chance and decided to foster him. Even though fostering can be hard, Hale encourages people to get outside their comfort zone and give it a shot. The rewards, she says, greatly outweigh the risks.
"It makes your heart full," she says. “It makes you fulfilled. You are actually making some kind of causative impact in the world. No matter how small it is, it’s a huge difference to that cat."
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