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Meet Luke, The Incredible Cat With Spina Bifida Who Helped His Family Heal After They Suffered A Tragic Loss

Approximately one month after the passing of their oldest son Wyatt to complications related to Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), Stephanie Lyons-Keeley and her husband, Wayne, learned about a kitten with spina bifida who was searching for a forever home.

“[He] had been adopted with his ‘normal’ brother,” explains Stephanie, “but after a very short period of time, both were returned as the adopter couldn’t properly care for [him].”

Spina bifida, a developmental spinal abnormality, can cause affected cats to have a number of symptoms, including an unsteady gait, weakness in the hind legs, and urinary incontinence. As a result, cats with spina bifida may not be able to go up and down stairs or jump on and off of high places, and they often have to wear diapers, which can sometimes make it harder for them to find homes. “After losing our son to a terminal disability — we also have a visually impaired son, too — we knew we needed and wanted to give that same kind of love, compassion, and care to [this kitten],” says Stephanie.

white minskin cat with spina bifida
Wayne and his son Wyatt/Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

On January 30, 2021, Stephanie and her husband traveled four and a half hours from their home in Danbury, Connecticut, to Maryland to meet the three-month-old feline in person for the first time. “[We] fell in love with this tiny — maybe about 1.5 lbs — guy immediately!!” remembers Stephanie.

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

In honor of Wyatt, who was a big fan of Star Wars, Stephanie, Wayne, and their children decided to name the newest member of their family Luke, an ode to Luke Skywalker. “It was just perfect!” says Stephanie. “Luke also means ‘bright, white, bringer of light’ and that’s just what he’s done for our family, especially coming to us after such a dark time.”

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

Luke settled into his new home right away, and it didn’t take long for Stephanie — who had never cared for an incontinent cat before — to figure out how to diaper him. In addition to diapers, Stephanie realized Luke also needed to be bathed multiple times a week to stay clean. “Fortunately he doesn’t mind!” says Stephanie, and a year later, this special boy is doing incredibly well. “It’s amazing how quickly you simply don’t mind changing a cat’s diapers and once they are used to bathing, how easily it all becomes routine!”

For Stephanie, caring for Luke isn’t difficult, and aside from dealing with leaky diapers, the biggest challenge is finding someone to look after him when she’s away for extended periods of time. “I do have to make sure someone is there to change him in my absence,” says Stephanie, “but I’m lucky I have the kind of job where I’m home a lot and do nearly everything for him myself.”

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

While Luke has limited use of his back legs, causing him to scoot instead of walk, he is able to jump, although not very high, but he can’t climb stairs on his own. “He must be carried up and down the stairs, but other than that, he’s the most ‘normal’ and playful kitty!!” says Stephanie.” Luke loves to be held, play with toys, snuggle with his fur siblings, and make biscuits on me — I’m his person!”

Luke also enjoys going on adventures with his family, usually to places that allow dogs, making him a bit different from the average feline. “Everyone is always surprised to see a cat,” explains Stephanie, “therefore he gets a lot of attention!”

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

Fortunately, this handsome boy enjoys being fawned over, especially by his parents, and while he requires more time and attention than a typical cat, Stephanie believes caring for Luke isn’t as much work as people often assume. Plus, Stephanie — who has adopted six more special needs cats since bringing Luke home a year ago — believes he and his siblings are very appreciative of this extra effort. “They really do ‘know’ that you’re there for them and they pay you back in love and snuggles a thousand-fold,” says Stephanie. “I truly believe I get more out of the relationship!”

While it’s obvious no one could ever replace Wyatt, the son Stephanie and Wayne lost in December 2020, his memory lives on through Luke, the special needs cat he inspired his parents to adopt. “We truly believe that somehow Wyatt led him to us, even just in spirit,” says Stephanie.

Wayne and his son Wyatt/Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

After all, Wyatt gifted Stephanie and her family with the love and compassion and knowledge required to care for Luke, which in turn helped them become advocates who want to raise awareness while bringing joy to others.

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

“We love that we can give Luke the life he deserves but also that we can, through him, spread happiness,” says Stephanie. “People love him both in person and through our social media, but what’s more, the fact we can spread awareness about disability, both pet and human, is our biggest and best joy. It’s become our mission!”

Image via @luke_able_minskin on Instagram

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