When Janine Le Clair met Lil’ Bill for the first time, she had no intention of adopting a pet, but she couldn’t help but feel a connection with the tiny orange and white kitten her friend had discovered outside his Nashville home in March 2008. “He was literally found all alone on a friend’s porch,” says Janine. “That family lived in a woody, rural area. They have no idea where he came from.”
Soon after discovering Bill, the man and his family took the kitten — who was born in early February 2008 — to a vet who recommended putting the young cat to sleep. “As a kitten, he looked like he had a type of Parkinson’s disease and was very jittery and wobbly,” explains Janine.
However, as Bill didn’t seem to be unhappy or in pain, the family refused to euthanize the young kitten, although they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep him forever. “My ex brought him home because they had too many cats already,” explains Janine, and while she had previously decided she wasn’t in a position to commit to a pet — having recently moved to Nashville from Australia and uncertain of how long she would be staying in the United States — she didn’t hesitate to adopt Bill. “It was love at first sight and no questions asked,” remembers Janine.
It didn’t take long for Janine to develop a strong bond with the special cat, although it was a while before she discovered the name and nature of the congenital condition responsible for Bill’s wobbly walk and head tremors: cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition that affects balance and coordination.
“CH never came into play until an emergency trip to the vet from a hornet sting,” says Janine. “When the vet saw him for a follow up to the simple Benadryl he was given, she said he was classic cerebellar disease, which we had never even heard of at the time.”
The vet explained that cerebellar hypoplasia occurs in utero, usually when a pregnant cat is exposed to a virus, malnutrition, or toxins, causing her kittens to be born with underdeveloped cerebellums, the area of the brain responsible for balance and coordination. “I didn’t do a lot of research on the [condition] at that time,” says Janine. “I just knew he was special and honestly didn’t realize how many other CH cats were out there.”
While Bill had all of the classic symptoms associated with cerebellar hypoplasia, the vet did a full panel of blood work in order to rule out any other potential causes of his unique gait and shaky head. “Those results came back perfectly normal,” says Janine. “That was all the info we needed at the time. As long as he was ‘healthy’, we knew he was happy.”
For the first several months of his life, Bill — aside from being a bit wobbly — was a fairly typical cat, but around his first birthday, he had a grand mal seizure. “For several years, we just figured it came with the territory,” says Janine, as it’s not unheard of for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia to also have epilepsy.
Thankfully, Bill’s seizures are fairly rare, and with the help of medication and a specialist, they are currently under control. “I have a direct line of communication to the neurologist and can update her with videos,” says Janine.
Not long after Bill had his first seizure, he started walking differently, and to this day, no one is certain why his gait changed. “I have absolutely no idea how the hind leg paws ended up bending backwards,” says Janine. “All of a sudden as a young adult, he just started dragging his legs behind him.”
Because Bill’s walk changed shortly after reaching adulthood, Janine thinks it’s possible that as he got older and bigger, this handsome special needs cat had a hard time maintaining his balance, causing him to develop a new gait. “His hind legs do hinge correctly,” explains Janine, “but only if I manually put them there.”
Despite having cerebellar hypoplasia, epilepsy, and unique hind legs, Bill — who recently celebrated his tenth birthday — is a very happy and active cat who has formed an incredibly strong bond with Janine over the past decade. “He can’t wait to be held,” says Janine. “I bounce him like a baby in my arms and he makes happy ‘love grunts.’ “
Bill is also incredibly social, and he loves getting attention from his mom or anyone else who happens to be around. Like a typical cat, Bill loves food and bird watching, although he’s a bit usual because not only does he like car rides, he enjoys having his belly rubbed. “The closer I am to him and the more I’m rubbing his belly with his hind leg up in the air, the better,” says Janine.
However, due to his unique hind legs and lack of balance and coordination, Bill does have some limitations. “He can’t climb and you always hear him coming,” says Janine. “He can never sneak up on you.” When he was younger, Bill had infrequent bowel movements, but this adorable special needs cat became regular after Janine started adding pumpkin to his food and giving him cat laxatives.
While Bill now has regular bowel movements, he dislikes using the litter box, something his mom attributes to his heightened sensitivity to most stimuli. “When waking up, or being disturbed or moved, or finishing a bowl of food or anything,” says Janine, “he takes a long time to sit in a comfy position and get comfortable and acclimated.”
Thankfully, Janine is more than happy to give Bill the patience, attention, and reassurance he needs to thrive, and she is certain that this handsome ginger and white cat is grateful for everything she does for him. “He is so appreciative of my love and those who look after him,” says Janine, and while Bill — who has had to cope with cerebellar hypoplasia, epilepsy, and unique hind legs — could easily be unhappy about his lot in life, he’s taught his mom how to remain positive and joyful in the face of adversity. “He is resilient. He doesn’t complain and would have dozens of reasons to,” says Janine. “He is unconditional in his love.”
Bill, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere ten years ago, is undoubtedly very thankful that Janine, without reservation or hesitation, agreed to be his mom, but she considers herself fortunate for having the opportunity to care for this incredibly unique boy. “He teaches me lessons daily,” says Janine. “He is truly a gift from heaven, sent to give me a purpose.”
On Saturday April 21, 2018 from 3 to 5p.m. CT, Lil’ Bill, who is the mascot for his mom’s vocal coaching company, Music Row Voice, will make a special appearance at a concert to raise money for Sweet Faces Cat and Kitten Rescue, as well as to raise awareness about special needs kitties like Bill. The concert will feature Bill’s mom, Janine Le Clair — who is an incredibly talented singer — and an assortment of other artists performing a mix of original material and cover songs. You can watch the concert for free via live streams on Bill and Janine’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, so you can support this great cause from anywhere in the world!