Angela Wagner was browsing the website for HART, a cat adoption center and shelter in Cumberland, Maine, in February 2018, when Hazel, a fluffy tabby kitten with special needs, caught her attention. Hazel was approximately five months old, and she had Manx syndrome, a congenital condition that can affect some tailless cats.
“Manx syndrome is a genetic condition where the spinal cord is partially developed — forming a type of spina bifida — which can lead to a range of issues such as paralysis, digestive and urinary incontinence, and mobility issues,” explains Angela.
Having recently loss Mingus, their beloved special-needs senior cat and soulmate, who had multiple autoimmune diseases, Angela and her husband Sam were confident they would be able to provide Hazel with the additional care her condition she required.
“I knew I had to adopt another cat who needed extra care and love,” says Angela. “Manx Syndrome was a completely new challenge for me. When I first saw Hazel, I just knew she was the one.”
While Hazel was just five months old, she’d already been through a lot, having lived in a feral colony in Brunswick, Maine, for the first weeks of her life. It was the beginning of winter in Maine, so thankfully, she and two other kittens were trapped by a local non-profit animal welfare group, Friends of Feral Felines, but Hazel was in terrible shape when she was rescued. “Hazel was very sick,” says Angela. “She suffered from constant vomiting, diarrhea and IBD, skin infection, parasites, and incontinence, and she spent the next two months in a hospital.”
Fortunately, after almost 8 weeks of hospitalization, Hazel was healthy enough to be released to HART, and she was placed in a foster home while she waited for someone to adopt her. Shortly after seeing Hazel’s picture online for the first time, Angela and Sam submitted an adoption application, which was approved, and they arranged to meet the special needs kitten in person.
“We instantly fell in love,” says Angela. “I remember crying while holding her for the first time after we took her home. She was a little love bug and instantly snuggled up in the crook of my neck.”
It’s been more than a year since Angela and Sam adopted Hazel, and they’re just as smitten with this adorable Manx kitty as ever. In fact, this beautiful special needs cat can often be found hanging out with Angela in her home office, and she loves snuggling with both her mom and her dad.
Hazel also enjoys spending time with Ginger-Pants, her big sister, and watching the birds and squirrels who visit the enclosed back porch of her family’s home. “She loves to play — specifically in her crinkle tube — chasing airborne dust particles, and zooming around the house like crazy,” says Angela.
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While Manx syndrome causes Hazel to have a hopping gait, her unique walk obviously doesn’t prevent her from having a happy and active life, proving there’s usually no reason to feel sorry for special needs cats like this fun-loving girl.
“In reality, they are some of the happiest and most energetic cats, which caring for is not as hard as it would seem,” explains Angela. Due to her incontinence, Hazel does need a bit more care than the average feline.
Initially, Hazel’s incontinence wasn’t too bad, but as she got older it got worse. “At first we protected our furniture with washable pee-pads and invested in waterproof Mambe blankets for our furniture and our bed, which have been a lifesaver,” says Angela, “we also diaper Hazel once in a while, but she suffers from chronic urinary tract infections, so we try to keep her ‘uncovered’. We are currently learning to express her bladder, which we are hoping will help.”
Without a doubt, Hazel requires more care than a typical kitty — including regular baths — but Angela and her husband have never regretted adopting her. In fact, this loving and caring couple hopes other people will consider opening their homes to pets like Hazel, especially because cats with Manx syndrome are often deemed unadoptable, putting them at risk of being euthanized.
“Manx syndrome and spina bifida are not death sentences,” says Angela, but it is important to research these conditions before making the decision adopt a cat with Manx syndrome or spina bifida. “There are great resources and groups out there online that are so amazing and helpful.”
Following the passing of their beloved cat Mingus, Angela and Sam knew they had to adopt another special needs kitty, and they’re so thankful they came across Hazel when they did.
Despite not knowing anything about Manx syndrome or spina bifida, they both fell in love with Hazel, and this sweet and playful girl has proven to be the perfect cat to carry on Mingus’s legacy. “She’s priceless,” says Angela. “She’s my furbaby. We love her so much and are so glad she adopted us.”
To learn more about this stunning cat, you can follow Hazel on Instagram.