When Julia Henning got a call late at night from Paws & Claws Adoptions Inc., an animal rescue near her home in Adelaide, South Australia, about a litter of kittens who had recently been abandoned by their mother, she was eager to help the small family of one-week-old cats. Immediately, Julia sprang into action, driving an hour to pick up the four tiny felines.
“They were covered in dirt and fleas and they hadn’t had a feed in at least 12 hours,” remembers Julia. “I rushed them home, cleaned and fed them, and then realized that their eyes weren’t right.”
All four of the kittens — who Julia named Nina, Edward, Winry, and Alfie — had been born without eyelids, a congenital condition known as feline eyelid agenesis, but they appeared to be in otherwise good health. However, just a few weeks after Julia began fostering the kittens in mid-January 2018, she discovered Nina, a tiny tabby and white kitty, was actually blind and had congenital glaucoma in one of her eyes.
“Congenital glaucoma is incredibly rare in cats,” explains Julia. “It causes a build up of pressure within in the eye because the eye is unable to drain properly and in turn causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve.”
Ultimately, Nina — who was blind at birth — ended up having two separate surgeries to remove both of her eyes, one as the result of an infection most likely caused by eyelid agenesis and the other due to the pressure caused by glaucoma. This first operation to remove the eye with glaucoma was particularly risky because Nina weighed just 10 ounces at the time, but it quickly proved to be absolutely necessary.
“The eye with glaucoma grew so large, it actually started to burst on the operating table just as they put her under,” explains Julia. “We tried to hold out as long as we could to give her a chance to gain weight, but in the end it just had to be done and thankfully Nina is a little fighter and came out swinging.”
While fostering Nina and her siblings, Julia developed a fondness and affection for all four cats, but she felt a special bond with the blind tabby and white kitten. Not only did Nina have to be separated from her siblings while she recovered from her surgeries, Julia was going through a breakup at the time, and the pair provided each other with much-needed comfort and love.
“Nina was my constant companion,” says Julia. “We spent two weeks just cuddling and napping and playing with her toys and she really motivated me and pulled me out of that sadness and back into the real world.”
Not only did Nina provide Julia with a distraction from her own problems, she inspired her foster mom to view her life and its challenges in a new light. “I kept looking at this tiny kitten who had been dealt a very difficult hand; born feral, abandoned, blind and having to have surgery so young, and yet she was just the happiest, most loving kitten,” remembers Julia.
Not surprisingly, when Nina reached the point where she was ready to find her forever home, Julia couldn’t bear the thought of letting her go and officially adopted her from Paws & Claws Adoptions Inc. on April 23, 2018.
Several weeks later, Nina is doing great, and Julia is so happy she decided to adopt this adorable blind kitten, a choice she made based on this little girl’s unique personality, not her special needs. “For me, it wasn’t a specific decision because she was blind but more because she was Nina,” explains Julia, “this wonderful, brave kitten!”
Despite being unable to see, Nina is incredibly adventurous, and she often accompanies her mom on nature walks. “She purrs instantly when I put the harness on because she knows it’s walk time,” says Julia. “She adores listening to the birds and smelling all the wonderful plants in our area.”
Nina also comes with her mom on weekly trips to the market where this spunky girl is the center of attention. “She loves sniffing all the stalls and getting pats and chin scratches from passersby,” says Julia. “She’s a very social cat, so she likes to keep busy.”
While the majority of people who encounter Nina quickly fall in love with her indomitable spirit and adorable face, Julia has met quite a few well-meaning individuals who treat this friendly feline with pity and sympathy that her mom feels is unnecessary. “Many people say ‘poor thing’ when they meet Nina in the street because they think she must have a sad life or a lesser life than a cat that can see, but how wrong they are!” says Julia.
By showing people the excellent quality of life Nina is able to have despite not having eyes, Julia hopes more people will realize that special needs kitties, especially blind cats, can have very happy and active lives. “I can’t stand to think of how many cats have been euthanized just for being blind,” says Julia. “It’s ridiculous to think when I look down at Nina and see a vibrant, happy kitten with a whole wonderful life ahead of her that anyone thought she should be ‘put out of her misery.’ Nina loves everything. She is constantly purring and happy. There’s no misery here!”
In fact, when Julia watches Nina as she plays with her toys, naps in the sun, and wrestles with her big brother, Cow, it’s impossible for her to imagine a happier cat. “There is a misconception that disabled cats are unhappy or lesser and I think, sadly, people think this about people, too,” says Julia. “Just because you were born differently or something happened to you doesn’t mean you can’t have a good life or achieve things.”
While it took Nina a little longer to eat and drink on her own than her siblings, with her mom’s help, this little girl has managed to overcome every challenge she’s faced, and Julia has only had to make a few special accommodations. “I’ve just had to learn not to leave out anything sharp or close doors that are usually open because she will run into them,” explains Julia. “And I don’t have anything in the house that would be too tall for her if she fell off.”
Taking a few extra precautions to ensure Nina’s safety and happiness pales in comparison to the joy this little kitten has brought to Julia’s life since the pair met for the first time earlier this year. “Nina has been many things to me,” says Julia. “A life boat, a friend, a mentor, a child.”
While Julia was there, nursing Nina back to health as she recovered from two risky surgeries as a tiny kitten, this little girl was by her mom’s side when she was mourning the end of a relationship, giving her hope, inspiration, and a reason to be happy.
“People tell me she’s lucky to have me,” says Julia, “but they have it backwards. I am so incredibly lucky to have her in my life. To wake up with her fearlessly showing me how to live a life worth living with a smile on her face.”
To learn more about this adorable kitten, you can follow Nina on Instagram.
If you’d like to support Nina’s efforts to help raise money for her siblings who need treatment for eyelid agenesis, check out her awesome fundraiser! She’s giving away lots of fun prizes to donors, including a personalized postcard from Nina and even a Skype session with this special girl!