Finding a forever home for a one-eyed cat is always a challenge. Adopting out a blind one is a daunting prospect. So, as foster coordinator for a group that does trap-neuter-return, I was dubious when I received news about a rescued, blind, eight-week-old kitten. We discussed putting her down, but wanting to give the kitten a chance, I begged to have our vet examine and test her.
Dr. Brenda Forsythe called with the results of the test (negative), but said both eyes would have to be removed. I could hear in her voice as she described how healthy and friendly this kitten was that she did not want to put her down.
Forsythe said, “Dogs and cats don’t rely on vision as their primary sense the way humans do. They use their keen senses of smell and hearing to compensate and generally do just fine.”
Relieved, I went to get the kitten.
As soon as I opened the carrier door, the kitten stepped into the kitchen and began exploring. I was mesmerized, as was my cat Nemo, who chirped a quiet greeting to the kitten. Within two days the kitten had downstairs and upstairs mapped and was making friends with the four resident cats and the dog.
Darlene Arden, a certified animal behavior consultant, says in regards to blind pets, “It’s helpful if you have a textural way to help him identify rooms as he goes from one to the other. This is easily done if you have tile, wood, or a Pergo-type floor.”
This describes my house, so perhaps that helped the kitten learned the floor plan so quickly. In any case, I dubbed her Amelia after that legendary fearless flyer Amelia Earhart.
Four days later I took her in for surgery. She came home with stitches, tubes, and a rigid plastic collar. Still very groggy from the anesthesia, she greeted me with a purr. She came out of her foggy sleep of three days confused and frustrated about being trapped in the collar. She seemed to have forgotten the layout of the house. I attributed that to the collar hampering whisker and ear senses.
Once free of the collar three weeks later, Amelia dashed around the house chasing the dog and trying to sneak up on the big cats. She knew the locations of the litter box, treat jar, and my lap. Every day she added a new trick. She’d scamper up the tall cat tree without pausing and swing herself over the side to shimmy back down.
She played soccer with noisy crinkle balls through a room full of furniture. Her hearing was so acute that she would stop short of running into things if a toy had bounced off it first. She could even track birds flying across the yard while in the catio and leap in the air after a toy sailed over her head.
Then World War Pee broke out: One of my cats was not happy with four-month-old Amelia’s presence. Brokenhearted, I began to search for a new home for her. I barricaded her upstairs but she would not be blocked in. I caught her scaling the four-foot-tall wall, so I raised it four more inches. She was upset and lonely. Maggie, Barney, and I spent a lot of time upstairs. I let Amelia out in the catio for a few hours every day for fresh air and sunshine.
Weeks later, I drove Amelia to her new home. On the way there, a local shop owner called saying someone had brought in a kitten found under a freeway overpass. I arranged for a neighbor to get the kitten and put her in a cage in my garage.
All that night I was consumed with worry. Less than thrilled with Amelia’s new home, I had the overwhelming urge to rescue her. Despite the challenges, I decided to retrieve her. I knew if I was patient I’d find the right home for her.
Before I left, a couple called and asked whether Amelia was still available. They had two FIV-positive cats and wondered whether that would be a safe environment. I met them and was thrilled with them and the layout of their home. I said I believed it could work with some precautions, so I introduced Amelia to them after I’d retrieved her. The meeting went well.
With Amelia back upstairs and the smaller kitten I’d named Freeway in the garage, my fostering took more of my time. Both cats craved companionship.
I got Freeway neutered, and he tested clean, so I introduced the two kittens and let them work it out for a few hours each day. Eventually the trilling and playing overcame the hissing and growling. Within three days little Freeway attempted to nurse on Amelia, who obviously enjoyed it.
With the bond made, much stress was relieved for all. Yet I had a new dilemma: The pair needed to be adopted out together. I wondered how to break this to the couple.
After a few weeks, they said the house was prepared and they were ready to adopt. Great news, but now I had to mention Freeway. It turns out that brought more great news: With no hesitation, all agreed that there is nothing sadder than a single kitten.
It has worked out well. Amelia and Freeway are now four years old and are allowed supervised time in the backyard. (The FIV-positive cats are gone.) Amelia loves to lie down by a dish of birdseed on the patio, and she bounces around the lawn attempting to catch butterflies.
This illustrates how blind cats play. Fellow cat writer Dusty Rainbolt says, “Remember, they need to be able to hear their prey. Provide them with toys that make noise. Da Bird is a feather lure dangling from a string that rotates and sounds like beating bird wings. Used properly, blind cats can track the sound and grab the lure right out of the air.”
Amelia’s family does not see her as blind, because she doesn’t see herself that way. Even on the occasion when furniture is rearranged, it takes but a single pass for Amelia to adjust her mental map to the new layout.
Blind animals are a wonder to behold and a privilege to share your home with. Saving Amelia from that needle so long ago is one of my proudest moments.
About the author: Marci Kladnik, her four rescue cats, and one rescue dog live in a small town with no stoplights or mail delivery. A retired graphic designer and technical writer, she turned her talents to championing feral cats in 2007. Involved in TNR and feral rescue, she sat on the board of directors of Catalyst for Cats from 2007-2013 while trapping and fostering local feral cats and kittens. Her award-winning biweekly cat column ran for seven years in three newspapers. She is an award-winning photographer, and president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Past columns appear on www.catalystforcats.org.