Monday, November 12, 2012

Life with a CHitty

On Thursday I made my way up to the ASPCA headquarters on 92nd near 1st Avenue to meet Kenny, our latest little foster.  Kenny, I was told, has cerebellar hypoplasia: a genetic condition that occurs in cats and dogs in which the cerebellum isn't fully developed at birth. 

If you remember your high school anatomy, you may know already that one of the biggest jobs your cerebellum does is give you your sense of balance and coordination.  And I don't mean balancing on your hands in crow pose; I mean balancing on your hands and knees without tumbling right over. 

Kenny is what I call a 'hard foster.'  He requires several (up to six) ten-minute physical therapy sessions every day, to help him learn to compensate for his condition.  As if having a terrible time balancing and putting your limbs where you want them to go isn't tough enough, another aspect of cerebellar hypoplasia is that Kenny trembles and jerks pretty much all the time.  The more relaxed he is, the less severe the tremors are, to the point that if he's sleeping, you'd never know there's anything unusual about him, but if he's concentrating really hard on something, like eating, tracking a toy with his eyes, or standing up and pooping in his litter box, he shakes and jerks violently, and usually falls over.  Which means Kenny generally needs one to two baths a day.

Kenny is fed four times a day, and each time, he is propped up on two little pillows, so he can sit roughly in the standard feline sitting position, and his food bowl is propped up on a yoga block so he can reach, and he then proceeds to, for all appearances, bang his face into his food in a state of frenzied excitement until he falls over.  It's simultaneously adorable, and heart breaking. 
 His head seems to do the most jerking, so the harder he works at seeing where his food is, and putting his mouth there, the more he trembles and jerks, which makes getting his mouth around the food that much harder.  He's already learned to compensate somewhat by taking big bites when he does get his mouth where he wants it to go, instead of daintily lapping up his food as most cats do, and he can finish his meal in about ten minutes if he's having a good day and only falls down and needs set back up twice.
It's incredibly heartening for me to see what a great appetite he has, and it's a powerful yogic lesson to witness his infinite patience with himself.  Over and over and over again he pushes himself up onto his front paws, painstakingly puts his back feet under him, sloooowly straightens his wobbly legs, tumbles right back over.

His veterinarian and I are very concerned with the fruits of his therapy sessions, and his own efforts, but Kenny just keeps giving it another shot, with seemingly no expectation as to what the result will be.  His therapy sessions tucker him out, but instead of getting grouchy, he simply stops holding himself up, tumbles over, and usually takes a nap.
He loves to play, and when he's rolling around on his back grabbing and biting at his favourite toy, you realize he's just a kitten, really.  He loves to be petted, and cuddled, and he loves playing with his big foster sister, as long as she's not being too rough.
I, of course, love him beyond all reason.  I hope to have updates of his progress over the next couple of weeks.   For now, just a reminder that peace and contentment in the midst of trying circumstances is possible.  Don't worry about the results of your work.  Just keep trying.

Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia, or CHitties, are generally otherwise healthy, and have normal lifespans, and good quality of life, but are often overlooked in shelters.  It's something to think about if you're interested in adding a cat to your life, and a lot of laughs.  Just youtube CHitty, or cerebellar hypoplasia to see videos of what these guys look like in action.  And don't be afraid to laugh!  They won't mind.

Live Omily,


  1. This story left me in tears. I hope that his big sister is helping you to take good care of him. They are the same breed so I am wondering if that might help them? This blog was appropriately timed...much of the world is challenged right now and we need some inspiration. Bless you for all you do each day for Kenny.

  2. Kenny is a touching little guy. Glad he is inspiring you, and thanks for the blessings and positive thoughts! I can always use them!! ;-)