When Courtney Blount — a volunteer with The Kitten Carer, an Australian cat rescue — learned about a special needs kitten and his brother who were in need of a foster home, she eagerly agreed to help the young felines. The kittens, who were named Whiticker and Wolfie through a raffle on social media, were approximately four weeks old in April 2021 when they were surrendered to a woman who works in the animal industry in Horsham, Victoria, Australia. “Upon initial observation it was obvious one of the kittens, Whiticker, had an issue with his back legs as they were in a split position and he was unable to stand or walk on them,” explains Courtney.
While Courtney knew Whiticker would probably require more time and attention than a typical kitten, she wanted to give him the chance she felt he deserved. “Often it’s the kittens with disabilities that find it hardest to be homed, or they are euthanized, and it breaks my heart,” says Courtney. “These tiny kittens are so vulnerable and can sometimes be a 24/7 job with barely any sleep and a lot of stress and worry, but being able to raise and see them flourish, it’s the most rewarding and heartwarming experience ever.”
On April 24, 2021, Courtney met Whiticker and Wolfie for the first time, and they both gave her a very enthusiastic greeting the moment she opened their carrier! “They were tiny, fluffy, and so confident!” remembers Courtney. “Despite Whiticker not being able to stand on his back legs, that didn’t stop him. He would pull himself along the ground with his front legs and got around just as well and quickly as his brother. He had so much spark and purred the moment I held him.”
Shortly after bringing the pair of kittens back to her home in Melbourne, Australia, Courtney took Whiticker — who needed help using the litter box because he was unable to walk or bear weight on his back legs — to the vet for a thorough examination. Initially, Whiticker’s unique hind legs were attributed to swimmers syndrome, a congenital condition that causes some cats to be born with splayed limbs. “Acupuncture was suggested for treatment,” says Courtney. “Once Whiticker started acupuncture sessions, there was noticeable improvement immediately.”
The little black and white cat began using his hind limbs to prop himself up, and after just a few sessions, Whiticker was able to get in and out of the litter box without Courtney’s help.
However, when Whiticker visited another vet for additional diagnostics, x-rays revealed he most likely had pelvic limb deformities, not swimmers syndrome, and following a CT scan, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare condition. “Whiticker has congenital bilateral stifle luxation, meaning his kneecaps are dislocated along with an abnormally high patella in relation to the femur caused by displacement of both tibia/deformity in the knee joints,” says Courtney. “There is also possible underlying bilateral hip dysplasia.”
Incredibly, there are no documented veterinary cases of congenital bilateral stifle luxation, so the medical recommendations for Whiticker were based on anecdotal reports and treatments used for people. After discussing a number of surgical options, Whiticker’s veterinarian recommended a procedure known as a quadriceps release, which would reduce some of the tension in the tendons in his back legs.
Following this procedure, Whiticker would also need to have a transarticular external skeletal fixator. “This means that there will be pins coming out through the skin from the bones connected to an external bar on the outside of Whiticker’s legs to fix the knees in a flexed position,” explains Courtney. “No movement of the knees will be possible while the bar and pins are on.”
After a few weeks, Whiticker would eventually be able to transition to a bar made of a more flexible material, such as rubber, which would help encourage movement in his knee joints. He would also require regular splinting, bandage changes, and physical therapy at least until adulthood, and it’s possible Whiticker would need additional surgeries to treat other issues that might arise. “An estimate of $4,000 to $6,000 (AUD) has been provided for the initial surgery, with ongoing costs associated with weekly bandage changes,” says Courtney. “The estimate does not include treatment for complications if they arise. A rather general estimate of $10,000 (AUD) was discussed to hopefully cover the entire treatment process.”
Together, Courtney and Jessica Ruf, the founder of The Kitten Carer, have already raised over $4,000 (AUD) to cover the cost of Whiticker’s surgery and treatment. However, Whiticker must undergo the initial surgery within the next four weeks, so time is running out to help this very special boy. Thankfully, Whiticker isn’t in any pain, but that hasn’t stopped people from telling Courtney and Jessica he should be euthanized because he must be suffering. “As Whiticker was born with this condition, he has learnt to adapt and isn’t in any pain,” says Courtney. “He also doesn’t let his condition stop him, and he acts just like any other playful and energetic kitten.”
While he might move a bit differently from a typical cat, Whiticker is incredibly active, and he loves bird watching and playing with his foster siblings. He also likes chasing after things, whether it’s his own tail, dry food, or ice cubes. “Whiticker loves being in the kitchen with us and will sit there the entire time, and eagerly waits for the freezer door and ice cube tray to open,” says Courtney. “No matter where he is in the house, he will come running as fast as he can in the hopes to play with an ice cube. I call him Chef Whitty.”
Without a doubt, Whiticker is an incredibly happy cat, but in order for him to have the quality of life he deserves, it’s imperative for The Kitten Carer to raise the additional funds needed for his treatment. Not only will the surgery allow Whiticker to have better mobility, it could help improve the lives of other animals with congenital bilateral stifle luxation. “We can learn from special needs kittens like Whiticker,” says Courtney. “They have so much to teach us — how resilient they are and determined to continue life as they know it.”
While it’s impossible to know what the future holds for Whiticker — with or without surgery — he will always be able to depend on everyone at The Kitten Carer, especially Courtney. After all, she’s been with him every day since he was five weeks old, and these two share an incredibly deep and special bond. “He loves to be held and follows me around and if I’m not in sight he will cry until I find and pick him up,” says Courtney. “He has a really long journey ahead of him, but I am going to be there with him every step of the way and do everything I can to ensure he lives a happy and healthy life.”
If you want to learn more about this handsome kitten, you can follow Whiticker on Instagram.
If you would like to help Whiticker get the care he needs to thrive, you can donate to his GoFundMe.