Two days after Christmas 2013, Kristi was driving from a store to her home in the high desert in southern Nevada, when something appeared on the road. “At first I thought it was a tumbleweed, but when I got out I got a better look,” says Kristi, and she quickly discovered that a tiny Siamese cat had darted out in front of her vehicle.
“The way she carried her right front leg made me terrified that I’d hit the little kitten,” remembers Kristi. Panicked, Kristi brought the young cat home to examine her injured limb. “My mom quickly reassured me it was an old injury,” says Kristi, “reminding me to look closer; there was no blood.”
While Kristi was fairly confident she hadn’t hurt the kitten with her car, she contacted her vet and arranged to bring the young Siamese feline in for an examination. “I was scared that if I simply took her to the shelter that they’d find her unadoptable, or too much work to make adoptable, and that they’d just end her life before it’d really begun,” explains Kristi.
The vet determined that the kitten was approximately four weeks old and was far too friendly to be feral. “My vet figured [she] had been dumped in the desert – whether to perish from starvation, cold, cars, or coyotes, or to fend for herself,” says Kristi. Initially, the doctor concluded that the kitten had suffered a broken leg shortly before she was rescued, so the vet put a splint on her tiny limb and Kristi brought her back to her home. “I did post fliers, both around the area I found her, my neighborhood, the vet’s office,” explains Kristi, “but no one ever stepped forward to claim her.”
Kristi, who has stage 2 complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), had been disabled for five years when she found the one-month-old kitten, and she couldn’t help but feel a connection with young injured cat. “I knew all too well the pain of being shunned because of not being ‘perfect,’ yet here was this tiny, sweet, affectionate Siamese kitten,” explains Kristi. “Giving her up wasn’t ever really an option.” Kristi decided adopt the friendly feline, naming her Keiko, which means “lucky child” in Japanese.
After adopting Keiko, Kristi focused on helping the Siamese kitten heal her broken leg, but she repeatedly chewed through the Velcro straps. When Keiko was approximately six months old, her injured limb hadn’t gotten any better, so Kristi asked a radiologist to review her x-rays. “It was then it was discovered that her leg hadn’t been broken,” explains Kristi. “She was born missing the complete radius as well as several carpal bones; that’s why the tendons were pulling the leg inwards.”
Kristi learned that Keiko would either have to wear a brace for the foreseeable future, or she would need to have her malformed limb surgically removed. “It was decided she was going to be miserable wearing a brace the rest of her life and that amputating was going to be the best option,” explains Kristi. However, being a single mother and permanently disabled, Kristi didn’t have the funds to pay for the surgery, but a very special friend stepped up to help Keiko. “Her guardian angel came in the form of another famous tripod cat, Henry,” says Kristi.
Shortly after Keiko celebrated her first birthday, she had her leg amputated, and the operation was followed by a difficult recovery. “A couple days after the surgery, she lost her appetite,” remembers Kristi, “and we ended up giving her subcutaneous fluids with vitamins as well as a probiotic paste to try and get her eating again.”
Keiko ended up losing a pound of weight from her already tiny five-pound-frame, but Kristi was by her side throughout the ordeal, intent on nursing this beautiful Siamese cat back to health. “Thankfully, after about 24 hours, she responded to the treatment and was back to eating,” says Kristi.
After regaining her appetite, Keiko began adjusting to her new life as a three-legged cat, and she seemed much happier without the limb than she had before the surgery. “She had hated the splint so much, she didn’t use the leg much to begin with,” says Kristi. “Now with the leg gone, I finally got to watch her ‘skip’ around the house and leap onto the cat stand, the chairs, the couch; she was fearless!” In fact, the only issues Keiko had involved getting down from high places and grooming her face, but it didn’t take this sweet girl long to devise methods of dealing with both of these challenges.
More than three years later, Keiko has no trouble using the litter box, she’s able to stand on her hind legs to beg for treats from her mom, and she’s more agile and active now than she was before the surgery. “Keiko will grab toys in her mouth and whip her head, flinging the toy upwards, and then go dashing after it,” says Kristi, and she is confident that amputating Keiko’s malformed limb was the right decision.
“Most cats that have to lose a leg are happier after the amputation,” says Kristi. “That leg may be causing them pain, or it may get in the way because it doesn’t work right. They don’t see it as a loss or a handicap; they don’t get hung up on how it might affect their appearance; they simply adapt.”
Undoubtedly, Keiko has adapted incredibly well to being a tripod cat, and when she’s not tormenting Bella, her feline sister, chewing on shoelaces, or begging for food, she enjoys cuddling up with her mom who has severe chronic pain. “If I’m having a bad pain day — which is most days — she’s never far from my side, and quick to curl up,” says Kristi. “If she can’t curl up on me, she curls up next to me, but always makes sure she’s touching me, keeping that contact.”
Kristi has been hospitalized multiple times since she adopted Keiko, and this adorable three-legged girl is always there to greet her when she returns. “Keiko is always happy to have me home, refusing to let me out of her sight,” says Kristi. This special relationship, which began more than four years ago when Keiko ran in front of Kristi’s car in the middle of the desert just after Christmas, has only gotten stronger over time as they’ve comforted one another through multiple medical issues. “When I’m hurting, she’s there to comfort me,” says Kristi. “When I’m sick, she lets me know she’s there. When I’m sad, she’s there with a purr to remind me I’m loved.”
If Keiko — who was likely abandoned in the middle of the high desert by her former family — could speak, there’s no doubt she would express similar sentiments to those of Kristi, the person who was there for her when her life literally depended on it. “She came into my life when I needed someone who wouldn’t judge me because of my disability,” says Kristi. “She’s become my whole world.”
To learn more about this gorgeous cat, you can follow Keiko on Instagram.