Angela Card was working in her office in Chatanooga, Tennessee, in May 2006 when one of her coworkers told her about a mother cat and three newborn kittens he’d found in a steel warehouse. While Angela was familiar with the mother cat — a stunning dilute tortoiseshell girl she called Alley — she had no idea she’d recently given birth, nor that she’d even been pregnant.
“Alley was one of many stray cats in the area that I fed daily, but I had not gotten her TNR’d yet,” explains Angela, referring to trap-neuter-return, the process of trapping homeless cats, sterilizing them, and then returning them to where they were found.
When Angela went to check on the mother cat and her kittens, she discovered Alley was extremely sick, putting her health and the well-being of her babies at risk. “My mother took Alley home to nurse her back to health,” says Angela, “and I took the kittens and bottle fed them until Alley was well and they could be reunited.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, Angela tended to the young cats — Big Boy, Tanner, and Tinkerbell — while her mom worked tirelessly to help Alley recover from panleukopenia, a highly contagious and incredibly dangerous viral disease that is often fatal when left untreated.
Incredibly, Alley survived the illness, which almost certainly would have killed her kittens if they’d gotten it from her, and she joined Big Boy, Tanner, and Tinkerbell at Angela’s home. However, when the kittens were approximately eight weeks old, Tinkerbell began having difficulty with her balance and coordination.
“She started falling down a lot,” says Angela. “I took her to a vet that told me to put her down before I fell in love with her.” Having bottle fed Tinkerbell for nearly two months, Angela had already formed a deep bond with the adorable grey and white kitten and was reluctant to euthanize her without getting a second opinion.
“I immediately found another vet, which is who I now work for,” explains Angela, and she learned that Tinkerbell was born with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition that occurs in utero when a pregnant cat is exposed to toxins, malnutrition, or an illness like panleukopenia.
“She explained CH to me and that Tink could live a long happy life,” says Angela. However, Tinkerbell — who was born with a moderate form of the condition — still had to learn to cope with the symptoms associated with cerebellar hypoplasia, including head tremors and a wobbly gait.
“She had a lot of trouble eating the first year of her life because her head wobbled so much,” says Angela. “I had to hold her head still for her until she was strong enough to do it herself.” While Tinkerbell ended up with quite a few chipped teeth as a result of her issues at meal times, her symptoms lessened considerably by the time she reached adulthood.
Nearly 12 years later, Tinkerbell is very self-sufficient, and not only is she able to eat and drink without her mom’s help, she has no trouble grooming herself and has even developed her own unique method of getting down from high places, something cats with cerebellar hypoplasia often struggle with.
“Things really changed once Tink grew up and got stronger,” says Angela, although this wobbly grey and white girl occasionally has issues relieving herself. “Sometimes she gets messy in the litter box,” says Angela, “but high-sided boxes help a lot.”
While Tinkerbell can’t jump like a typical cat, she’s still very active and likes playing with plastic Halloween spider rings and anything with catnip in it. Tinkerbell also loves watching television, but there’s one pastime she enjoys more than anything else: “Eating Temptation chicken flavored treats is her most favorite thing in the world,” says Angela.
Angela, who has had Tinkerbell since she was a one-week-old kitten, is certain this wobbly girl is happy and healthy, and she hopes that well-meaning people who feel pity or sympathy for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia will realize that these special kitties are capable of having fun and fulfilling lives. “The first thing that usually comes out of people’s mouths about Tink is ‘poor thing’ or ‘bless her heart,’ ” says Angela. “I tell them to not feel sorry for her. She is healthy, happy, loved, and spoiled rotten.”
While Tinkerbell’s mother Alley and brother Tanner passed away last year, they both had wonderful lives thanks to Angela and enjoyed love and security they probably never would have experienced otherwise if she hadn’t rescued them more than a decade ago.
Tinkerbell and her brother Big Boy will celebrate their twelfth birthdays next month, and it’s impossible not wonder how many years they would have lived if Angela hadn’t adopted them when she did.
Since bringing these siblings home as bottle babies back in 2006, Angela has opened her home to many more cats in need, including Wyatt, who has hind leg paralysis, but the bond she has with Tinkerbell — the one she was told to put to sleep as a tiny kitten before she got too attached — is as strong as it is special. “Tink is my world!” says Angela.