One of the hardest parts of animal rescue is knowing that sometimes, the animals we try to save will not make it. This was unfortunately the case with Tribble, a black rescue kitten who suffered from a cleft lip, a neurological disorder, and several other congenital malformations.
The odds were stacked against Tribble from the get-go, but that did not stop his foster mom, Karina Sharma, from giving him every chance at a normal life. From the moment she met Tribble, Karina was inspired by his will to live — and his feisty personality, which prompted him to swat at Karina’s hands when she didn’t get dinner on the table quickly enough.
“Tribble was an amazing spirit,” she says. “It never ceases to amaze me that such a big personality can occupy such a small physical space.”
Tribble was found in July on someone’s front porch in Philadelphia. No one knows how he ended up there. The man who found Tribble took him to the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), a no-kill shelter that also runs a low-cost wellness and spay/neuter clinic. The staff at PAWS was too overworked to care for a kitten needing round-the-clock bottle feeding, so several PAWS volunteers took to Facebook to find the special kitten a foster home. That’s where Karina first saw Tribble’s photo and fell in love.
“I was tagged in his picture by a volunteer friend and immediately offered to foster him,” she says. “I have a weakness for both black cats and bottle feeders (as well as special needs), so it was natural that he would end up in my house.”
Tribble had a cleft nose and lip and a neurological disorder that caused him to be uncoordinated and unbalanced to the point where he had trouble even sitting on his own. He was also small for his age and had a head that was larger than average. To assist with his mobility, Karina and her husband used rolled-up hand towels as bumpers in his enclosed “house.” Shortly before he passed away, he surprised even Karina by what he could do.
“He got out of his house, somehow weeble-wobbled his way over to the cat tree in our bedroom, pulled himself up to a standing position, and began scratching on the bottom post, holding on for stability,” Karina says. “At that point he opened my eyes to the real possibilities of how ‘normal’ his life might be with a little creative assistance, assuming his body was as strong as his personality.”
Unfortunately Tribble succumbed to illness related to his many conditions, and he passed away in Karina’s arms last month. Karina is still trying to pay off the vet bills associated with his care. She hopes that the vets can use Tribble as an educational experience to help provide care for other cats with similar conditions.
“We hope Tribble’s final gift is to be a learning case for vets,” Karina says.
Karina hopes to honor Tribble’s memory by continuing to foster cats in need. She has been volunteering and fostering for Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia, the city’s open intake shelter, since 2009. She also fosters for PAWS and Kodi’s Club, a local rescue focusing on Rottweilers. Since 2009, she and her husband have taken in more than 200 cats and between 15 to 20 dogs.
“We tend to take in many harder-to-place cats and kittens, either because they are shy and scared in a shelter environment or lack socialization or because they require intensive medical treatment or round-the-clock care, such as bottle feeding,” she says.
Karina also plans to keep updating Tribble’s Facebook page to share stories of other special-needs cats who need donations for care, or who just need a voice. Despite the many challenges of caring for special-needs pets — and the heartache we experience when they can’t overcome their challenges — Karina still believes the journey she took with Tribble was worth it.
She hopes that by continuing to update Tribble’s page with stories of the special-needs cats she fosters, she can encourage other people to consider “adopting someone ‘less adoptable’ the next time they open their hearts and homes to an animal,” she says.
“Tribble, to me, exemplifies the importance of giving the underdog (or undercat in this case) a chance,” Karina adds. “That little one-pound being made us all better versions of ourselves. To honor him would be to make sure we remember that. We will soon be taking in another special-needs foster in his memory. I can’t allow my grief to stop me from letting another needy animal make use of his food, bed, and home. The better version of myself would insist that I do.”
Read more about Catster Heroes: