Belle is a cross-eyed, stump-tailed cat with twisted legs who spent the first six months of her life cooped up in a cage in Wisconsin. From that cramped and compromised start to life, she has since been rescued and now lounges in her safe forever home in Chicago, where she charms her humans by strutting around on her knees.
This is how Belle‘s journey took place.
Belle’s human, Elizabeth Rizki, had previously adopted two Persian cats (Star and Cairo) who were rescued from Egypt and given safe haven in the United States by the Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue. In Belle’s case, her travels began a little closer to home. Along with her sister (who also suffers from a feline disability), the two kittens who were found in a hoarding setup.
Worse still, they were being bulled by the other cats — so someone simply locked Belle and her sibling up in a tiny cage for half a year.
After the rescue group intervened, Belle and her sister were fostered in Gurnee, Illinois — but while her sister quickly found a forever home, Belle remained for four months without receiving a single application.
Thankfully, Elizabeth came across a Facebook post containing videos of Belle that the purebred group had circulated.
“The first time I saw Belle’s video I immediately fell in love,” she recalls. “She looked up with her little cross eyes, cocked her head and brought a ball to her foster mom in her mouth.
“I shared the video with my boyfriend and family and told them I’m getting a new family member.”
Once Elizabeth’s adoption application had been approved, Belle sat on her lap “snuggled up next to me” for the entire ride home. As she settled into her new digs, Belle showed herself to be “five pounds of complete awesomeness — affectionate, playful, laid back, smart, an attention hound, feisty and adorable.”
Part of Belle’s awesomeness comes from the way she has managed to combat her twisted leg syndrome by scooting around on her knees.
From a medical point of view, the condition is a birth defect that happens when the legs are positioned awkwardly in the womb. In some cases, kittens born with twisted leg syndrome are able to overcome the issue through splinting and exercises — but being that Belle was caged for the first six months of her kitten life, she was never give the needed medical care and attention.
Instead, Belle developed an innovative way of moving around.
“She does a combination of waddling by using her hips to pick up her legs, and … many times she will just drag her back legs behind her,” describes Elizabeth. “She puts most of the weight on her front paws.
“Because she walks at the knee joint. Belle has to use her hips to pick up her legs. I describe it as swimming or waddling across the floor — and when she runs, her back legs go up in the air.”
(You can check out this video of Belle in full flow.)
While her twisted leg syndrome means that Belle isn’t able to jump and leap like other cats, Elizabeth says that Belle has developed her own tactic to scale heights. The method involves pulling herself up the side of objects by using only her front paws and claws — whether that’s onto a queen-sized bed or loftier structures.
“One day I heard a lot of noise,” recalls Elizabeth,” and I walked over to the cat tree and there she was sitting in the top looking up at me with her innocent cross eyes!”
The downside to Belle’s improvised way of getting around is that, because of all the weight she puts on her hind legs and knees, she is prone to developing patches of fluid “because she’s walking on joints that are not meant to be walked on.”
That being so, Elizabeth is investigating treatments to help push out the fluid through bandages and wraps before it hardens — although Belle has not exactly warmed to the idea of wearing the wrappings.
“I am trying to figure out how to design her tiny knee pads to help take some impact off of her legs,” says Elizabeth, before reassuring that because Belle is “so functional,” she probably won’t consider any “intense orthopedic surgery.”
Follow along with Belle’s adventures at her Instagram account.