Carol was with her daughter at an animal shelter near their home in Ohio when a little black and white kitten caught her attention. “She was so tiny and she was in this huge kennel,” remembers Carol, and a staff member took the young feline out for her and her daughter so they could see her unusual walk. “She crawled on her elbows because her front paws were bent at a 90 degree angle.”
She discovered the tuxedo cat was born with radial hypoplasia (RH), a congenital condition that causes affected cats to have unusually short and twisted forelegs, as well as radial aplasia (RA), a genetic disorder characterized by a short or absent radius bone in one or both of the front limbs. “It’s a rare genetic disorder,” says Carol. “Humans can have this. I actually know a man who has it, and he works full time!”
While Carol didn’t know a lot about radial hypoplasia or radial aplasia at the time, she did have experience caring for a pet with special needs. “I had a dog when I was little that became paralyzed,” explains Carol. “He lived in diapers and a wheelchair. He had a wonderful happy life with us.”
Confident she and her family would be able to provide the young special needs cat with a great life, Carol decided to adopt the unique kitten, especially after learning she would be euthanized if she didn’t find a home within two days. “I knew that we had to take her home,” explains Carol. “It was an instant connection.”
On September 17, 2010, Carol and her family adopted the tiny tuxedo feline when she was just a few weeks old, and her other daughter chose the perfect name for the happy-go-lucky kitten: Keebo. “Her name originally was to be spelled Kibo,” says Carol. “It means hope in Japanese.”
While Keebo was meant to be her daughter’s pet, with Carol playing the role of a doting grandmother, it quickly became apparent the two of them had a special bond. “It was very clear after a few weeks of us having her that she chose me,” says Carol, and more than a decade later, they are closer than ever. “I am disabled, and I have had many, many surgeries. When I am recovering, she never leaves my side.”
In addition to keeping Carol company while she recuperates, Keebo loves to play, whether it’s with a laser pointer, soft balls, or plastic rings, and she adores taking long naps. She’s also extremely intelligent, and she is able to communicate her wants and needs to her family without making a sound. “She will come get me if there’s something special she wants!” explains Carol. “She has learned that waving her paws, which she actually does to balance herself to stand up, also gets her a lot of attention and anything she wants!”
Because she has radial aplasia and radial hypoplasia, Keebo sometimes needs her family’s assistance, but they definitely don’t mind helping this special girl. “I don’t consider anything extra I provide to her as a challenge!” says Carol, but she has made some changes to her home to make life easier for Keebo, such as providing her with raised water and food bowls. “She has to balance herself on her back paws when she eats, so we raise the water and food so she isn’t hunched over to eat.”
Carol has also placed a set of steps next to her bed to make it easier for Keebo to get down by herself. “She loves to sleep with me at night and she is able to jump very high!” explains Carol, but it’s more of a challenge for her to get down on her own without injuring herself. “If she jumps down from something too high, she face plants and that stings! She hits her chin or nose!”
Also, because Keebo has radial hypoplasia and radial aplasia, she is unable to cover her mess after using the litter box, and she has difficulty cleaning her face. Thankfully, Carol doesn’t mind scooping her litter frequently, nor does she have a problem helping this adorable girl with her grooming. “I wash her face with warm water and occasionally baby soap,” says Carol. “She loves it!”
While Keebo definitely needs a bit more care than a typical feline, she is able to walk, jump, and play. Consequently, she has much more in common with the average cat than people often assume, proving special needs cats are capable of having happy and active lives. “I think people who have never seen a kitty that has thrived and lived a great life with radial aplasia or hypoplasia probably assume their life would be cruel, painful, and come with too many challenges,” says Carol.
Fortunately for Keebo, she has a family who is more than happy to help her overcome any challenges she might face, and the bond she’s built with Carol over the past years is truly unbreakable.
“She has my heart and I know she sees my soul when she looks in my eyes,” says Carol. “She keeps me going on days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. If it’s possible to have a cat as a soul mate, then that’s what she is to me!”
To learn more about this beautiful cat, you can follow Keebo on Instagram.