This week we are honored to hear the story of Roxy, a courageous kitty who has a disability. Her human mother / owner, Linda Freedman was gracious enough to write an article for EverCats to describe Roxy’s condition and tell more of Cerebellar Hypoplasia, a condition in which kittens are born without full development of part of the brain; the cerebellum.

Roxy was humanely trapped in a feral cat colony at the age of four weeks by a local rescue goup. Her unvaccinated feral mother had died after contracting Feline Panleukopenia, commonly called feline distemper. The mortality rate of kittens born to infected mothers is 90 %. Surviving kittens are immune to the disease, but may have life long consequences such as cerebellar hypoplasia. Roxy displayed the classic symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia. She was a little wobbly and had intention tremors – a slight jiggling of the head when she focused on an object. This did not interfere with her ability to run and play, however. She was litter box trained and had a clean bill of health.

The Panleukopenia virus affects the area of the brain called the cerebellum, which controls fine motor skills. The effects on the cerebellum can range from mild to severe. The condition of the affected kittens will not deteriorate. As they mature, they become stronger and adapt to their condition. Some are smaller than unaffected cats, but have a normal life expectancy.

Because of Roxy’s condition, she is an indoor cat. We carefully “kitten proofed” our home – partly due to her condition, but mostly because she was a kitten, equipped with equal parts of kitten curiosity and kitten fearlessness. We bought a low-sided litter box, but she soon grew large enough and steady enough to use a standard one. She had difficulty negotiating stairs at first, so we installed a baby gate. She can jump up on the beds and the sofa, although some jumps are belly flops. Being on the bed is the objective. How she arrives there doesn’t matter.

For Roxy, life is one big adventure. Unlike some humans, cats with disabilities don’t compare themselves with normal cats and sit around feeling sorry for themselves. They simply develop new ways of accomplishing goals and getting things done. Roxy has normal muscle strength, but is a little uncoordinated. She doesn’t always travel in a straight line, but she always reaches her destination. Sometimes her hind end swings around to the side, as if trying to get there first. Roxy bounds rather than runs – leaping with her front legs together and then her back legs together.

Sometimes a run down the bare floor in the hall ends with a sideways slide, like a Little Leaguer sliding into first base. She has more control when she runs on carpets. But does she choose to play in the carpeted areas of the house? No. I think she enjoys the challenge! Roxy walks with the characteristic “goose step” of “CH cats”, as they are affectionately called. Her hind legs move up and down like pistons. She sounds like a tiny train, chugging down the track.

Cerebellar hypoplasia does not affect intelligence. Roxy knows her name, comes when called and can identify different toys. When asked, “Where’s Mousie?”, Roxy will fetch a toy mouse and drop it at your feet. At family gatherings, you’ll find Roxy in the middle of the action. She loves to snuggle and snoozes in my arms for hours.

Although Roxy is clumsier than unaffected cats, her philosophy remains “Full Speed Ahead” – even if you stumble sometimes and make some unexpected detours along the way. After all, didn’t someone say that life is a journey, not a destination?

Unfortunately, many “C H cats” are needlessly euthanized because they are “not normal”. Roxy can teach us all about accepting and loving ourselves, even with our “defects”, and about perseverance in the face of adversity.

This is Roxy’s gift.

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