Meet Gretchen, a Special-Needs Kitty with Swagger


When I first met Gretchen, I felt sorry for her. She was this tiny wisp of a kitty in one of the bottom corner kennels at Wayside Waifs, the animal shelter where I volunteer in Grandview, Missouri. Her head twitched awkwardly as she looked up at me with these slightly crossed, unfocused eyes and gave a pleading meow. All I heard was, "Love me!"

And I did, immediately. I scooped her up and scratched behind her ears as she rested her front legs on my shoulder, and I wanted to slip her under my sweater like an old-timey burglar and take her home right then. Later that night I even called my cat-allergic boyfriend to discuss the possibility of adopting her for real, and he more or less told me that if I got another cat, his face would explode if he set foot in my apartment.

So instead I gave Gretchen as much love as I could each time I volunteered. I quickly discovered that this little lady didn’t need my pity. The reason for her twitchiness and the wobble in her walk is partial blindness caused by cataracts, as well as hearing impairment. To us humans this might sound like a big deal, but she just shrugs it off and moves her head from side to side while she’s walking to compensate for her lack of sensory input. Her former foster mom describes her as "quirky, weird, and demanding; she has spunk and character."

Also working in Gretchen’s favor: Wayside Waifs is a great place for a wayward kitty with special needs to end up. A police officer found Gretchen all alone on the streets of Belton, Missouri, and brought her to the shelter, where she has benefited from the loving care of the dedicated volunteers and staff, who let her get away with just about anything, because seriously, look at her.

She has also shown repeatedly that although she might have some special needs, she is doing just fine, thank you. On her first night at the shelter, she strutted right out of the carrier and started doling out head-butts to anyone she could find. She loves to explore, and she’s not afraid of anyone; her swagger causes even bigger cats to back down. In fact, Gretchen has a reputation as a bit of a bully, a surprising personality trait that might be caused by overcompensation, as she has also been known to hiss at the pictures of cats painted on the kitty toy box in the sunroom.

More than anything, Gretchen loves to play. Sometimes it takes her a minute to catch her favorite toy in her line of sight, but once she’s locked in, she clamps it between her jaws and struts proudly around the room. This is when I pat her on the head and call her a good house tiger and a fierce little predator. She responds to these compliments with one of those soul-melting purr-meow combos that cats have been using to manipulate humans for centuries.

Playing with her is so delightful, in fact, that a recent discussion between Wayside volunteers on Facebook concluded that the world would be a happier place if Gretchen’s personality could be distilled and distributed to the masses in pill form. She’s still waiting to meet her forever family, but according to her foster mom, she will do well in a home without any other pets or young children and carpeted stairs, because she tends to lose her balance and needs to use her claws to grip. Until then, I’m looking forward to our next play date.

Gretchen isn’t the only resident at Wayside Waifs who is super-lucky to be there. Miracle Hitchhiker is a handsome black-and-white fellow who is, in fact, lucky to be alive at all. By choosing a rather unfortunate place to nap, Miracle went for an unexpected ride on the rear axle of a Chevy pick-up truck. The driver spent the whole day on the road randomly hearing cat cries, but he could not figure out where they were coming from.

After many miles, he finally discovered Miracle’s hiding spot. The driver was amazed that Miracle had survived unharmed. He was also unsure where Miracle had climbed aboard, so he took the tenacious cat to Wayside, and when no one came looking for Miracle, the kitty officially became available for adoption.

At the shelter, Miracle has retained his adventurous, independent nature. When he first arrived, he was perhaps a bit shell-shocked, having used one of his nine lives hitching that ride (maybe that’s why my mom told me hitchhiking is bad). It has been amazing to watch him become more loving and trusting. During a recent visit, he leapt into my lap purring and bestowed me with the most enthusiastic of head-butts. Now if only I can keep him from "accidentally" hitching a ride in my backpack to my apartment as I’m heading home after my next shift ÔǪ

Update: Miracle Hitchhiker went to a new home the week of July 30. Best wishes to Miracle and his new forever family!

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