When Deanna and her husband Tom were contacted by their local animal rescue about fostering a fluffy black and white kitten who had recently been rescued from an animal hoarder near their home in Oregon, they were eager to help.
The kitten, who was born in June 2017, had chronic ear infections during her first few months of life, which her owner tried — unsuccessfully — to get rid of on his own with hydrogen peroxide. “The owner knew that she had chronic ear infections,” explains Deanna, “but he did not have money to treat her because he had so many cats.”
Sadly, the kitten ended up developing a polyp in her inner ear, and by the time she was discovered by the Oregon animal rescue in late 2017, the little black and white cat was walking in circles and tilting to her head to one side, symptoms indicative of vestibular syndrome.
“The pressure of that polyp has caused the vestibular tilt as well as her Horner’s syndrome,” says Deanna, “which is a neurological disorder and causes her eyes to often be unequal in the size of their pupil and oftentimes her eyelid will droop further on one eye than the other.”
Incredibly, Deanna had firsthand experience with the symptoms the kitten was experiencing, including upsetting bouts of dizziness, because she was in an accident in 2009 that resulted in her own vestibular injuries, including a perilymph fistula (PLF) and superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS). “I have had two surgeries to correct the damage and try to alleviate my symptoms,” explains Deanna, “but I still deal with it on a daily basis.”
Deanna and Tom, who had taken care of special needs animals in the past, including a little blind cat who passed away from a virus in the summer of 2017, readily agreed to foster the black and white kitten. When Deanna saw her new foster cat for the first time, she immediately noticed the way her head tipped to one side, and started calling the fluffy kitten Tippy.
It also didn’t take long for Deanna to recognize when Tippy was having a bout of dizziness, because her eyes would flutter, her head would tremble, and she would often cry out. “Seeing Tippy struggle, and watching her dizzy spells,” says Deanna, “I couldn’t possibly relate any more and I knew that even though I couldn’t stop her symptoms and she couldn’t stop mine, together we could make life better just being in the company of each other.”
By December 26, 2017, Tippy and her foster mom had formed an unbreakable bond, with Deanna comforting the kitten during bouts of dizziness, and she and her husband officially adopted the beautiful tuxedo cat, giving this special needs kitten the perfect forever home. In addition to vestibular syndrome and Horner’s syndrome, Tippy is also deaf in one ear, the unfortunate result of a surgery that experts thought would help alleviate her symptoms.
While Tippy’s condition does limit her in a lot of ways — “Things like jumping up on a counter are really impossible,” says Deanna — she’s still a very happy and active cat who enjoys bird watching, munching on cat treats, and playing fetch with a wiffle ball. “She will retrieve and return the ball,” says Deanna, “and is able to go a good two or three rounds before she’ll drop herself on the floor and lay down and rest.”
Like Tippy, who has to tilt her head to the side to see the world the way everyone else does, Deanna thinks it’s imperative for people to be willing to adjust their perspectives in order to give special needs animals like this adorable black and white cat a chance at a happy life.
However, Deanna realizes that it can sometimes be difficult for people to be around Tippy when she’s having a dizzy spell or walking in circles — often because they’re afraid of what might happen to the fluffy little cat — but she thinks it’s important to work to overcome those feelings. “Somebody has to look past that fear,” says Deanna, “and imagine the need for that little creature to be treated with compassion like any other person would want to be treated with.”
Thankfully, not only has Tippy found a home with a family that treats her with tenderness and empathy, this little special needs cat has a mother who understands exactly what she’s going through. “When you live with a vestibular injury, especially one that is rare, it can be very lonely,” explain Deanna. “I deal with ear pain and pressure 24 hours a day 7 days a week.” However, Deanna realizes that unlike Tippy, she’s aware of the cause of her symptoms, and she has techniques she can use to minimize the dizziness she often feels.
When she first adopted Tippy, Deanna intended to provide love and support to a cat with the same condition she had struggled with for years, but she had no idea all of the ways this adorable black and white cat would help her come to terms with the challenges of her own vestibular injury. “It can be rather sad and lonely feeling like you’re the only one,” says Deanna.
While Tippy, who was rescued from an animal hoarder after suffering months of neglect, is very fortunate to have found a home with Deanna and her husband, her mom considers herself to be the lucky one. “She is priceless and I treasure being privileged to be a part of her journey!” says Deanna. “She means the world to me.”
To learn more about this adorable kitten, you can follow Tippy on Instagram.