The day after Clarissa moved into her new apartment in Lubbock, Texas, in July 2017, she and her boyfriend Isaac spotted a small black and white creature laying motionless in the 100 degree heat. “When I first saw her body all stretched out, my first thought was that she was a rabbit,” remembers Clarissa, “and my second thought was that she was a dead rabbit.”
Concerned for the animal’s well-being, Clarissa and Isaac approached the seemingly lifeless animal, only to discover that it was a kitten who was alive but in very bad shape. “Her left ear was literally dangling by a thread,” says Clarissa. “Her left eye was swollen shut. Tiny little gnats were flying around her face, and it looked like her skull was partially exposed.”
As the couple watched the injured kitten, unsure of what to do, two women came down from a neighboring apartment to offer their assistance. “They turned out to be my next-door neighbors and told us that they were both vet technicians,” explains Clarissa.
The two women sprang into action, wrapping the little black and white kitten — who had dried blood around a wound on her head — in a towel and rushing to the veterinarian’s office where they worked. However, before they left, the vet techs had a very important question for Clarissa and Isaac. “They asked us if we’d be interested in adopting her if she survived, and we said yes!” remembers Clarissa.
At the vet’s office, the doctor determined the female kitten was approximately six weeks old, and she had suffered serious damage to her head, the exact cause of which remains unknown. Unfortunately, the veterinarian was unable to attach the cute kitten’s ear, so it had to be surgically removed. “We later learned that during surgery they’d had to remove maggots from her head,” says Clarissa.
Fortunately, the kitten didn’t take long to recover from the surgery, and when she was ready to be discharged, she went to live with Clarissa in her new apartment. Despite everything the little kitten had been through in the six weeks of her life, she was so full of energy when she arrived at her new home, that Clarissa came up with the perfect name for the adventurous and agile little cat.
“She was so crazy and would jump and hang from her little tree that I’d bought her,” says Clarissa. “She was a little stunt cat!” Consequently, Clarissa named the kitten — who had most likely been born on the streets to a homeless mother — Vesper in honor of Vesper Lynd from the James Bond film Casino Royale.
While Vesper was full of energy that evening — “The first night back, she was a crazy little kitty!” remembers Clarissa — just five days later, the one-eared kitten had stopped eating and playing. Clarissa was understandably concerned, so she took Vesper back to the vet. “They determined she had the coccidia parasite,” says Clarissa. “This is also when we found out that she had feline leukemia.”
While coccidia is a dangerous intestinal parasite that can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea, it’s usually not fatal as long as animals receive prompt treatment. However, the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is far more serious, and because it suppresses the immune system, it can make it harder for cats with FeLV to fight off infection.
“It is a virus that can cause cancer, but is not cancer itself,” explains Clarissa. “FeLV cannot be spread to humans, dogs, or other animals. However, it is contagious to other cats and can be transmitted through saliva, blood, feces, or urine.”
Due to having both feline leukemia and coccidia, Vesper had to be admitted to the animal hospital once again for intensive treatment. “She had to remain in their care for four nights hooked up to an IV,” says Clarissa. “When we finally got her back, she looked horrible and so worn out.”
Once Vesper was back home with her mom, Clarissa noticed the one-eared kitten had developed balance and coordination issues, including an unsteady gait. While the exact cause of Vesper’s wobbly walk is unknown, nearly a year later, her coordination has gotten considerably better.
“Her movement has improved over time,” says Clarissa, “but it is very common for her to attempt balancing on her hind legs and then fall over on her back or side.” As a result, using the litter box can be challenging for this cute one-eared cat who is now around a year old. “She often steps in her poop or falls over into it because she is shaky, so we have become experts at cleaning her without completely bathing her,” explains Clarissa.
Aside from keeping Vesper clean and making sure she doesn’t have any furniture in her home that this wobbly girl could fall off of and hurt herself, Clarissa hasn’t had to make many special accommodations for this adorable black and white feline. In fact, even though Vesper has a very serious disease, she really isn’t that different from a typical cat her age.
“She doesn’t seem to know or think that she’s any different,” says Clarissa. “She likes to explore and find dark places. She loves chasing her ‘squeaky mouse’ when we throw it. She really likes to look out the window and chase her laser pointer.” While it’s impossible to know how long Vesper will live, this little cat’s mom is making sure her life is filled with as much love and happiness as possible.
Clarissa, who wasn’t looking to adopt a special needs cat when she spotted Vesper — injured and immobile outside of her apartment last summer — realizes that not everyone is willing to open their homes and their hearts to a cat with feline leukemia, but she’s so glad to have this one-eared wonder in her life.
“Something people should know about cats with special needs is that they just see themselves as regular cats — because they are just regular cats,” explains Clarissa. “Some days will be rough, but if you love your baby, then you will figure out how to make it work.”
Over the past year, Vesper and her mom have experienced lots of ups and downs, but this little girl who has been through so much has inspired Clarissa with her remarkable resilience and her fun-loving attitude. “She falls every six feet and gets right back up,” says Clarissa. “She never feels sorry for herself. She leaves the past in the past.”
While no one can say for certain what the future holds for Vesper and Clarissa, it’s obvious that whatever challenges they may encounter, they’ll face them together, helping one another after every fall and setback. “She’s a fighter for sure,” says Clarissa. “She has taught me responsibility. She has taught me unconditional love.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Vesper on Instagram.