When Nicole Rohde learned that Chloe, a paralyzed kitten she and her husband were interested in adopting, had already found a home with another family, she was disappointed. However, the young cat’s foster mom, Hannah Shaw aka The Kitten Lady, knew of another kitten with special needs who was available for adoption and told Nicole all about him. “His name was Mr. Whiskers at the time,” explains Nicole. “He was at Saint Frances Animal Center in Georgetown, South Carolina.”
With Hannah’s help, Nicole — who lives in Clayton, North Carolina — got in touch with the tuxedo kitten’s foster mom Stephanie and arranged to meet Mr. Whiskers in person on July 3, 2017.
At the time, Mr. Whiskers was just three months old, and like Chloe — the kitten Nicole was initially interested in adopting — he had hind leg paralysis. “His spinal cord is crushed by two vertebrae that have shifted,” explains Nicole. “They weren’t sure whether he had a tail pull injury, was dropped, or if he was born this way.”
While no one could say for sure if Mr. Whiskers was born with paralysis or experienced some sort of trauma shortly after birth, it didn’t make much difference to Nicole and her husband. “The day we met him the vet who had taken care of him showed us x-rays, showed us how to express his bladder, and asked us if we would be willing to do the work,” remembers Nicole. “We said, ‘Of course!’ “
Even though Nicole had never taken care of a cat with special needs before, she was inspired by Hannah Shaw’s love for her foster kitten Chloe and confident she and her husband would be able to meet the challenges of looking after a cat with hind leg paralysis. “Our dog has a rare enzyme disorder which makes her tongue turn blue which made her unwanted,” says Nicole. “It’s kind of in my nature to want to save the unwanted animals.”
That day, Nicole and her husband officially adopted the cute tuxedo cat, changing his name from Mr. Whiskers to Watson, an ode to the limping character in the television show Sherlock. “The moment we saw him we knew we wanted to give this little guy a home!” remembers Nicole. “He was the sweetest boy; from day one, he just loved snuggles!
Shortly after Watson joined her family, Nicole started taking him for physical therapy in hopes of helping the adorable black and white kitten improve his mobility. “He went to therapy for a month and it made the muscles tighter so we discontinued,” explains Nicole. Around this time, Watson developed an usual habit of biting his own feet that proved particularly challenging for his mom and medical providers.
“We had no idea why or how to make it stop,” says Nicole, and while she tried various medications, none of them seemed to work. “Healing the wounds he would self-inflict in his back legs was tricky since he hated anything touching them. We had to clean his wounds three times a day and keep the cone on until it healed.”
Fortunately, Watson’s self-inflected injuries eventually healed, but then he started having difficulty defecating on his own. As a result, Nicole had to express both Watson’s bladder and his bowels, so she began feeding him a diet of wet food combined with a laxative for his bowels and an alpha blocker for his bladder.
While a lot of people might not be willing to take on the responsibility of a cat who needs to be expressed, Nicole is adamant that it’s really not that big of a deal. “Honestly, it’s just as much work as a dog,” says Nicole. “You have to walk your dog to go potty outside and get exercise. Watson we just have to cart to the bathroom and express him into the toilet.”
It didn’t take long for Watson and Nicole to settle into this new routine, but by May 2018, it became apparent that this handsome boy’s hind legs were hindering his ability to get around and he still hadn’t stopped biting his rear limbs. Consequently, Nicole and her vet agreed that the best option was to amputate Watson’s hind legs, and on June 13, 2018, he had surgery to remove them.
The operation went extremely well, and Watson quickly adapted to his new life as a two-legged cat. “Even before we had his legs amputated, he was happy and content with his life,” says Nicole, but it’s apparent that Watson — who recently celebrated his first birthday — finds it easier to get around without his paralyzed back legs. “He loves toys with feathers and his ‘kitty carwash,’ ” says Nicole. “He will scoot through it super fast, stop, scratch at it, and then keep on scooting.”
Watson also enjoys hiding in his cat tower and cuddling with his favorite toy, a stuffed cat named Marie that Nicole got him when he was a kitten after he was rejected by the family’s other cat Lila. “I got her as a silly joke since Lila doesn’t like him so much, but he just wants Lila to love him,” says Nicole. “Joke was on me because he fell in love with Marie!”
While Watson adores Marie, there’s no one this special boy loves more than Nicole. “I told my husband that I wanted a cat the opposite of our older cat Lila. She’s anti-social and rarely snuggles,” explains Nicole. “Watson is my lap cat who loves snuggles, kisses, and skritches and doesn’t mind me cleaning his eye goopies.”
Not only is Watson loving, he’s super lovable, and many people have become smitten with him through social media and have donated money to help cover his medical bills. “I am estimating that half of our vet bills for him have been donated and covered the past year,” says Nicole. “I didn’t ever like asking for donations, but everyone wanted to help him and I can’t thank them enough!”
Sadly, cats with hind leg paralysis often have difficulty finding homes, and they are frequently at risk of being put to sleep, which Nicole finds extremely upsetting. “It’s very sad that people think euthanasia is the only option for these guys!” says Nicole. “They really are the best cats.”
However, there are times when Nicole questions whether she’s doing what’s best for Watson, and even though she carefully weighed all the options before choosing to amputate his hind legs, she still wonders if it was the correct decision. “All those questions hurt my heart,” says Nicole. “It’s hard to say right at the moment that it was the right choice, especially with those wonky legs I loved so much, but the proof is in how he feels now.”
Without a doubt, Watson is a happy and active cat, and it’s obvious just how much his family, especially his mom, loves him. While Watson has required more care than a typical feline, to Nicole, this special boy is her ideal cat and all the added effort has been more than worth the privilege of having this adorable black and white boy in her life. “Watson is full of personality and is my dream cat,” says Nicole.
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Watson on Instagram.