When Gabi Somer, the founder and co-director of Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary in La Vernia, Texas, learned about Cricket, a kitten who was born without a tail and with spinal malformations, she knew she had to help the young special needs cat. “[On] March 4th of this year we got an email from Tina Galloway asking us if we take in special needs cats,” remembers Gabi.
Fortunately for Tina and Cricket, Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary is dedicated to providing a safe and happy environment for special needs cats and dogs, as well as senior pets. “We give them lifelong care in a cage-free environment,” explains Gabi. “All the cats and dogs live together under one roof and get along.”
Gabi founded the organization five years ago in order to provide a place for the special needs cats she encountered while doing TNR, the humane practice of trapping, sterilizing, and returning homeless and feral felines to their colonies and communities. Over time, Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary began taking in special needs animals from other organizations, and when Tina contacted Gabi in March 2020 about Cricket, they had one available slot.
“Tina is a special needs foster mom in the St. Louis area for a group called Saving St. Louis Pets,” explains Gabi. “In December of 2019, a 4-week old kitten who was unable to walk was turned over to this group, and they named the baby Cricket.”
After visiting multiple veterinarians, Cricket was eventually diagnosed with fused back legs and congenital spinal malformations, and x-rays revealed she was born without several of her vertebrae, rendering her incontinent. “Her wonky little hind legs are fused in an upward position,” says Gabi, “so she zooms around on her tush and wears diapers to protect her sensitive area.”
Gabi knew Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary would be able to provide Cricket with the specialized care she needed to thrive, including regular diaper changes, so they offered her a lifelong spot at the organization.
However, the COVID-19 crisis made it impossible for Tina to safely travel to Texas with Cricket in April 2020, so the pair didn’t arrive at the sanctuary until May 23, 2020. “Tina drove all the way from Illinois to Texas to bring us this amazing kitten who was full of spunk and ready to take on the world,” says Gabi.
After saying goodbye to her foster mom, Cricket made herself right at home at Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary, and three months later, this remarkable girl is thriving! “Our Cricket zooms around full speed inside and in the catio, and she is happy and content,” says Gabi. “She is faster than some of our four-legged cats and she never feels sorry for herself.”
While Cricket has no idea she’s different from a typical kitten, Gabi has discovered a lot of people feel sorry for special needs cats and think caring for them must be sad and depressing. However, Gabi believes there’s no reason to pity animals like Cricket, and she thinks caring for special needs cats and dogs is incredibly rewarding. “Our Cricket and all our special needs cats are such an inspiration,” says Gabi. “It is amazing to watch them play and have fun just like any other cat.”
After all, even though Cricket doesn’t move like the average feline, she is extremely active, and she loves hunting bugs on the catio, racing through tunnels with Chantelle, her best friend at the sanctuary, and playing with the ribbon table.
However, because Cricket is incontinent and has fused hind legs, she does require some extra care, including regular diaper changes, but Gabi has found this isn’t as time-consuming as people often think. “Instead of cleaning out litter boxes and cleaning up litter all over the place, you just change a diaper probably in less time,” explains Gabi.
In order to prevent Cricket from developing urine scald, an inflammation or irritation of the skin that is caused by urine residue, Gabi uses corn starch to help keep her dry and allows her to go diaper-free in her playpen overnight.
Also, Gabi gives Cricket lactulose, which is a laxative, and cisapride, a medication that increases motility in the upper GI tract, in order to keep her from becoming constipated. “We have to watch that she doesn’t steal dog food and ends up being constipated,” says Gabi, but she doesn’t think caring for Cricket is all that challenging.
By sharing Cricket’s story, Gabi hopes more people will develop the same appreciation she has for animals with special needs. “They are tiny miracles that have a right to be loved and to have fun just like any other cats,” says Gabi, and there is no doubt Cricket will have an incredible life filled with affection and adventure at Cats and Dogs Forever Sanctuary. “She is probably one of the most kissed kittens on the planet. Just looking at her puts a smile on my face. I tell her every day what an amazing girl she is. I love her so much; I can’t imagine life without her.”
To learn more about Cricket, you can follow Cats and Dog Forever Sanctuary on Instagram.
If you would like to sponsor Cricket’s care, please visit Cats and Dog Forever Sanctuary’s website.