When Brea was asked to foster Cheese Thief, a special needs kitten who had recently been taken to High Country Humane Animal Shelter by the police in February 2021, she agreed to help the four-month-old feline. “He had been found on a construction site and had bitten one of the construction workers when they found him in a Caterpillar [ a brand of construction equipment] and tried to get him to move,” explains Brea.
Cheese Thief had recently completed the 10-day quarantine required for animals who have bitten people, and the shelter hoped Brea — an experienced fosterer — would be able to provide the young feline with some much-needed socialization. The following day, Brea went to High Country Humane Animal Shelter near her home in Flagstaff, Arizona, to pick up the young grey and white cat. “When I first looked at him in the carrier, he was hissing up a storm and was spitting and swatting at anyone who came near him,” remembers Brea.
In addition to Cheese Thief’s obvious behavioral issues, he was on medication to treat an upper respiratory infection and giardia. Consequently, Brea set up a large dog crate for Cheese Thief to stay in, complete with his carrier, food, litter, water, bedding, and toys, until he was ready — both mentally and physically — to explore the rest of her home.
“I arranged everything so the food and litter box were near the doors to the crate so I could access them quickly with as little risk to myself as possible,” explains Brea. “I used gloves or wrapped my hand in a towel to get the dishes close enough because he was still swatting and lunging at me.”
When Cheese Thief arrived at Brea’s home, he had already been neutered, and while he was under anesthesia the shelter’s staff noticed abnormalities with eyelids. However, they weren’t able to completely assess the apparent issue while he was asleep, nor were they able to get close enough to exam him while he was awake.
“From the second day or so that I had him, I suspected something was going on with his eyes,” says Brea, and so she continued the process of socializing Cheese Thief so that the shelter staff would be able to get a closer looks at his eyelids during his upcoming booster vaccine appointment.
For the first week in his foster home, the four-month-old grey and white kitten wailed and cried practically nonstop, making it difficult for Brea and her family to sleep. She tried a number of different tactics to get Cheese Thief to stop meowing all night, including putting a radio on for him, leaving the lights on, and even covering his crate, all to no avail. “I asked the shelter for more recommendations,” remembers Brea. “Ultimately, what helped was just establishing a really clear routine.”
Around his 10pm bedtime, Brea began giving Cheese Thief some wet food, followed by a play session, and then she turned off the lights. After just a few days, he stopped crying and wailing at night, allowing him and his foster family to finally get some sleep. “He seems to really thrive on the routines and it helps his stress,” says Brea.
Brea’s efforts to socialize Cheese Thief also paid off, and at his next appointment a thorough examination revealed he had a mild case of feline eyelid agenesis, a congenital condition that causes affected cats to be born with missing or malformed eyelids. In severe cases of eyelid agenesis, cats with the condition are at risk of serious injuries to their eyes because they don’t have anything to protect their corneas from irritants like dirt, dust, and even their own fur. “The fur growing above the eye can irritate the cornea and cause damage,” explains Brea.
Fortunately, the veterinarian determined Cheese Thief did not need to have surgery to treat his feline eyelid agenesis, but he was prescribed eye drops to help keep them lubricated and moist. While Cheese Thief is able to completely close his eyes, it’s possible he can’t see clearly because of his feline eyelid agenesis. “The vet at the shelter believes that Cheese Thief is able to see everything but that everything is likely blurry for him,” says Brea.
After Cheese Thief was officially diagnosed with feline eyelid agenesis, Brea diligently continued her efforts to socialize him. Just a few weeks after bringing this cute grey and white boy home, Cheese Thief is now happy, healthy, and available for adoption, and his foster mom wants him to find a great forever home!
“An ideal adopter for Cheese Thief would be someone who has another cat at home, so Cheese Thief could have a lifetime buddy and someone who will love him for who he is,” says Brea. “He will be adopted with a medical waiver so his adopters are aware of his medical needs going forward.”
His adopters will also need to agree to continue his treatment for feline eyelid agenesis and to make sure he is an indoor-only cat. While it’s very important for Cheese Thief to find a home with a person or people who will take care of his special needs, Brea believes it’s equally important for him to have a family who appreciates and understands his unique temperament and personality.
“Each cat is an individual and their special needs are just part of who they are,” explains Brea. “Just having compassion and looking past the special needs to get to know that cat’s individual personality is so important.”
After all, this handsome boy isn’t really all that different from the average feline, because some of his favorite pastimes include hanging out on his cat tree, playing with balls and toy mice, and spending time with his fellow felines. Surprisingly, Cheese Thief — who once hissed and swatted at anyone who came near him — now adores human contact, and there’s nothing he enjoys more than snuggling with his foster mom!
“He loves hugs and starts purring every time I pick him up,” says Brea. “His favorite pets are scratches just at the base of his tail. He lifts his butt in the air then turns around really quickly and give me a good head butt and it is just the cutest!”
While there’s no doubt Brea will miss this sweet and affectionate boy when he goes to his forever home, she’s so thankful she succeeded at her mission of making him eligible for adoption. Plus, by successfully socializing Cheese Thief, not only did she help him become adoptable, Brea made it possible for him to get diagnosed with feline eyelid agenesis and receive the treatment he needed.
“Cheese Thief is a success story,” says Brea. “As someone who fosters kittens, I feel it is my job to provide a safe and loving home to every cat in my care for as long as I have them. My job is to teach them to trust humans and learn how good life can be.”
To learn more about this adorable kitten, you can follow Cheese Thief on Instagram.
If you’re interested in adopting Cheese Thief, you can contact High Country Humane.