While Rachael Hammond and her husband were on their honeymoon in San Diego, California, in August 2017, a friend back home in Scotland asked the newlyweds if they knew of anyone who would be willing to adopt a 3-month-old kitten with dwarfism who was desperately in need of a home.
“I immediately said yes!” remembers Rachael, and she volunteered to provide the young cat — who was named Peony and living in England at the time — with a forever home without even meeting her person beforehand.
Following their honeymoon, the newlyweds returned to their home in Scotland, and four weeks after they offered to adopt the dwarf kitten, they met her in the person for the first time on September 30, 2017.
“Four weeks after we agreed to take her, she eventually arrived in Edinburgh after a 4-hour train journey,” says Rachael. “When she arrived to us at four months old, she could fit in the palm of your hand, the size of a large baking potato!” As an homage to Giselle aka Potato, a cat who also has dwarfism, Rachael and her husband began calling the tiny kitten Tayto, and the name stuck.
When Tayto joined the couple’s family, the diminutive kitten had never seen a vet before, so Rachael made an appointment for her to see a doctor in Edinburgh who specializes in cats. “The vet was quite surprised when I lifted the lid of the carrier off and indeed confirmed she had dwarfism,” explains Rachael, “but without further tests, we wouldn’t know which type.” The doctor also remarked that Tayto appeared to be in good health and had no other obvious medical issues, which was welcome news to the young cat’s new parents.
With a clean bill of health, Tayto wasted no time settling in with Rachael, her husband, and Bob, the couple’s handsome black kitty. “She used to chase our other cat Bob around the house and bop him on his tail and run away,” remembers Rachael. “This was made even more funnier as Bob is around four times the size of her!”
However, after just a few months with her family, Tayto started having some very concerning mobility issues in January 2018. “Tayto began having difficulties in walking; she became very wobbly and unstable,” says Rachael, “to the point where she’d topple over and her hind legs couldn’t support her.”
Rachael and her husband were understandably alarmed, and their vet referred Tayto to a neurologist at The University of Edinburgh’s Hospital for Small Animals. “They performed a CT scan, ran tests to determine which type of dwarfism she had and a test to check if she had a variant of mucopolysaccharidoses – a fatal degenerative disease,” explains Rachael. After anxiously awaiting the results, Rachael and her husband learned that Tayto has osteopetrosis, a hereditary condition that causes bones to be abnormally dense and more prone to breakage.
The couple also discovered that their beloved cat had an underdeveloped lower jaw, her teeth had never erupted, and she most likely had mucopolysaccharidoses. “The tests regarding her dwarfism both ruled out pituitary and thyroid-associated dwarfism as her results were normal,” explains Rachael. “This led the vet to believe it was highly likely that Tayto did indeed have a variant of mucopolysaccharidoses as it would explain her dwarfism and difficulties with mobility.”
Just a few months after adopting Tayto, Rachael and her husband began mentally preparing themselves for the possibility of having to say goodbye to the tiny special needs cat who had captured both their hearts.
However, as the newlyweds were coming to terms with Tayto’s apparent fate, they received some incredible news. In order to get a more definitive diagnosis, Rachael and her husband sent samples from Tayto to a human laboratory for genetic testing, and when they finally got the results, they discovered she had did not have one of the dreaded degenerative disorders the neurologist had suspected. “We were happy that Tayto did not have a fatal disorder,” says Rachael, “but it also meant we were back to square one not having a diagnosis for her.”
After conducting multiple tests, the neurologist was unable to determine the cause of Tayto’s many health issues, telling Rachael and her husband that they would need to shift their focus from diagnostics to pain management. “The vet believed that we had done all we could for her, but I refused to give up,” says Rachael.
Through her persistence, Rachael learned about the Assisi Loop — a medical device that helps relieve pain and inflammation through targeted pulsed electromagnetic field technologies — and asked her vet to prescribe it to Tayto.
When the Assisi Loop arrived in the mail in mid-April 2018, Tayto was unable to walk or use the litter box on her own, and Rachael was desperate for the device to help the tiny dwarf cat regain at least some mobility. Tayto started wearing the Assisi Loop around her neck for short periods of time, multiple times a day, and it didn’t take long for her to begin showing improvement.
One month later, the device has proved to be nothing short of a miracle, and Rachael is incredibly grateful for the impact the Assisi Loop has had on Tayto. “It has truly changed Tayto’s life and we have been using it only for a short time,” says Rachael. “She is now able to walk again almost without falling over at all and if she does she is able to pick herself back up. She can stand to use the toilet and just recently she was able to climb up the steps we have for her.”
While Tayto still stumbles on a occasion, she is a world away from where she was a month ago, no longer needing to have baths — which she hated — after falling in her litter box. Even though this adorable dwarf cat has improved immensely, Rachael and her husband are still very concerned about Tayto’s health and safety, especially when they’re not around, so they’ve set up a webcam to monitor her while they’re away and they still take precautions when they’re at home. “She cannot be left unsupervised on high places like the sofa or the bed in case she falls as she is unable to jump down,” explains Rachael.
Having been through so much with Tayto — who’s not even a year old — in such a short time, Rachael and her husband have an incredibly unique bond with this adorable special needs cat. However, the couple realizes that not everyone will be able to understand why they have spent so much time and money trying to help Tayto, but it’s a decision Rachael and her husband stand by. “Any animal deserves a shot at life,” says Rachael. “In Tayto’s case, we know she is not suffering and therefore we will do everything we can to support her.”
While Rachael and her husband absolutely adore Tayto, they hope that sharing her story will help discourage people from breeding or buying cats with dwarfism like their special girl. “Dwarf cats are very cute, but they can also have life-threatening health conditions,” says Rachael. “Purposely looking for genetic abnormalities such as dwarfism carry many health risks which should not be ignored for the sake of appearance.”
Tayto is undeniably cute, but it’s obvious her parents’ dedication to her is about so much more than the way she looks. “She means the world to us,” says Rachael, “We will do everything we can to ensure she is loved, cared for, and spoilt. She is such a special girl who deserves to lead as normal a life as possible.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Tayto on Instagram.
If you would like to make a donation towards Tayto’s medical bills, check out her GoFundMe.