'Hind' Over Matter:Paraplegic Cat Learns to Walk
Though partially paralyzed, Tashi the kitten remains blissfully unaware of his condition and is teaching himself to walk. (Pet Pulse Photo by Pat Perrotto)
RINGOES, N.J. -- A medical marvel in more ways than one, Tashi the kitten was born with a congenital spinal chord condition that paralyzed his hind legs. But Tashi, unaware of his handicap, is still making every effort to walk.
Rescued from a feral cat colony in Ohio, nearly 6-month-old Tashi recently arrived at Tabby's Place, a cage-free cat sanctuary in Ringoes.
"Everyone was very excited about Tashi coming," said Tabby's Place founder, Jonathan Rosenberg.
Tabby's Place specializes in finding homes for cats in desperate circumstances. If not placed, cats like Tashi can remain at the New Jersey facility for life.
"Just having these cats here and being able to help them is really why we do this," Rosenberg said.
Teasing Tashi with a long piece of string, senior veterinary technician Denise Jeffries, was enticing him to chase it. Tashi slithered toward the string under the power of his healthy front legs, dragging his hind limbs, before lunging forward with a huge hop, trying to grab the string.
"Whoa!" Jeffries exclaimed, reacting to the brown and white kitten's all-out attempt to move.
"Tashi would've never made it out in the wild, and most shelters would've just put him down," she said.
Eventually, Tashi did indeed reach the dangling string.
"You got your string. Good boy!" cooed Angela Townsend, development director at Tabby's Place.
"I think I speak for all of us here when I say it touches our hearts very deeply that he has so much determination in him," Townsend said. "And that he has such a strong will to live, and strong will to just be a happy little kitten, living a full life."
In a best case scenario, Tashi will learn to use his hind legs to walk with them to some degree. In a worst case, his rear limbs will gain strength, so that they will not drag behind him as he relies on his front legs.
"With doing the walking he will have a little bit more ability to right himself," Jeffries said. "A little more activity and strength in his hind legs, which is what we want him to do."
Tashi was sent to Tabby's Place because they recently cared for another paraplegic cat, named Bagera. His hind legs were paralyzed when he was hit by a car. He now uses a cart to get around.
"His nerves were, they didn't really react much at all," Jeffries said. "He didn't have very many reflexes."
Tashi's prospects are more promising, however, because the nerves in his hind legs remain intact. Tashi's spine is noticeably crooked, which prevents the needed neurological communication from his brain to his hind legs.
Nevertheless, Tashi is being taught to use his hind legs through physical therapy, a relative rarity for cats.
Jeffries wrapped a thin band, similar to a leash, around Tashi's middle, holding each end directly above the kitten. This supported Tashi, enabling him to put weight on his hind legs so they would not collapse underneath him as he maneuvered down a hallway, with Jeffries right beside him.
Although a bit wobbly, Tashi managed to walk several feet at various points before needing a rest.
"It's going to be a challenge," Jeffries said. "But a challenge with great reward though."
One way to prompt Tashi to move his hind legs is by raising his tail. Indeed, during the walking exercise with the band, when Jeffries lifted Tashi's tail, the cat instinctively moved his rear legs in a walking motion.
"Muscle training is going to be a big part of his progress," Jeffries said. "To be able to steer himself in the right direction with the front end, as well as to be able to be able to support himself on the hind end."
At Tabby's Place, the staff says they are hopeful that Tashi will be adopted. Part of that optimism is because Bagera, another paraplegic cat they helped, has found a new home, having been adopted by a veterinarian.
"My faith in humanity has actually gone up as a result of doing this, when I see some of the adoptions that we've had," Rosenberg said. Tabby's Place recently found a home for Bellis, a cat born blind, with just slits for eyes.
After his tiresome physical therapy session, Tashi needed a rest. Even as he lay relaxing, though, his hind legs continued to pump quickly in a walking motion, because his brain cannot tell them to stop.
"Your legs are still going," Jeffries futilely reminded the exhausted kitten.
Despite all the extra work and care that cats like Tashi need, employees at Tabby's Place say it is all worth it, regardless of what the future holds for them.
"Just seeing the quality of life that's there," Jeffries said. "The sparkle in their eyes that's still there."
Prospective owners of Tashi should not shy away because of his handicap, Townsend said.
"Whatever extra care you may have to give a cat like Tashi is infinitely worth it in terms of the love you get," she said.
For more information, visit TabbysPlace.org.
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