When Susan Smith saw a handsome blind cat on Petfinder, she was immediately drawn to the striking black feline who had been rescued by Almost Home for Cats in Durham, Connecticut. “He was living behind a deli in Connecticut when a family found him,” says Susan, “but unfortunately, they had no funds to help him.” The family lost their apartment, but before leaving the area, they contacted the rescue for help. Almost Home for Cats took the blind cat in, naming him Michael, and he got proper medical attention for the first time after spending the first several months of his life on the streets.
In the spring of 2014, Susan and her husband decided they wanted to adopt a special needs cat, so they started looking online at the animals who were available near their home on Long Island. “I definitely knew I wanted a special needs cat,” explains Susan, “but after searching, I kept going back to the idea of a blind cat.”
Susan spotted Michael on Petfinder, and on Memorial Day weekend in 2014, she and husband drove more than two hours to meet him in person. “When I met [him], he was friendly to a point, but very skittish,” remembers Susan. “He didn’t like being hugged or picked up and carried.”
Thankfully, the Smiths didn’t mind that Michael — who was approximately a year old — wasn’t the friendliest or most affectionate cat, and the couple adopted him that day. “I didn’t care if he hated me,” says Susan, “I just knew I had to give him a better life.” Shortly after bringing the handsome blind cat home, Susan and her husband changed his name to Ray, an homage to the legendary musician who lost his sight to glaucoma when he was just a child. “My husband loves Ray Charles,” says Susan, “so the name change was a no-brainer.”
While the Smiths had sought out a special needs cat to adopt, neither of them had any experience caring for a blind feline, so they didn’t know exactly what sort of challenges to expect with Ray. However, Susan and her husband soon discovered that Ray had no trouble finding his litter box or his food and water, and despite being unable to see, he didn’t have any difficulty navigating their home, although he did spend the first week at his new house hiding underneath a chair.
Nonetheless, Susan was determined to form a bond with Ray, and she persisted, even when he withdrew from her. “I was relentless in touching and petting him,” says Susan. “I put my dirty pajamas near him so he constantly smelled me.” In addition to getting Ray accustomed to her touch and smell, Susan worked to win this striking blind cat over using her voice. “I started to kiss him and whisper to him,” remembers Susan, “and before long, he seemed to look forward to it.”
After gaining a bit of Ray’s trust, Susan continued working to build their bond by taking him into the backyard for some supervised time in the sun and fresh air. “I would take him outside and play ball,” explains Susan, “and because he was an outside cat for so long, it would relax him and I think give him something to look forward to.”
Ray enjoyed his nature outings so much, that when it was time to go back inside, his mom actually had to pick him up and carry him into the house, something she would have never been able to do just a few weeks earlier. Nearly four years later, Ray still doesn’t really enjoy being handled and will tense up when Susan holds him, but the two of them have come a long way from where they started. “It will never be his favorite thing,” says Susan, “but he’s OK with it.”
A lot has changed since the Smiths brought Ray home in May 2014: four years ago, they had one special needs cat, and today, they have six. In addition to their blind cats, Cookie, Blossom, and Ray, Susan and her husband now have Weeble and Ozzy, who both have cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition that impacts balance and coordination, and Donnie, a blind cat who also has CH.
While the Smiths adore all of their pets, it’s no surprise that Susan has a unique bond with Ray, the one who started her love affair with special needs cats. “All of my other cats were adopted as kittens, so they don’t know any different,” says Susan, “but Ray was an adult, and I really believe that he understands how his life has been changed for the better since he was adopted and he is truly appreciative of it.”
In fact, Ray has assumed the role of Susan’s protector, and anytime she gets upset or raises her voice, he comes running, ready to defend and comfort his mom. Susan, who has a large following on Instagram, hopes that by sharing her crew of blind and wobbly kitties with the world, she can inspire others. “If I can change just one person’s mind about adopting a special needs pet,” says Susan, “it makes it so worth it.”
Undoubtedly, Susan has had a huge impact on the way people perceive animals with special needs, but there’s no one whose life has been more altered by her determination, compassion, and love than Ray, the beautiful blind cat who once recoiled when anyone tried to touch him. “I never gave up on him,” says Susan, “and he lets me know every day how happy he is as I’m smothering his face with kisses.”
To learn more about this incredible cat, you can follow Ray on Instagram.