When Laura Mason and her husband heard a kitten meowing just outside their apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, the couple rushed outside to help the little cat in need, only to find several small black kittens. However, the young cats scattered into dark night, and Laura and her husband were only able to find one of them.
When they took a closer look at the little feline, they discovered he had been born without eyelids, a congenital condition called feline eyelid agenesis. The couple decided to adopt the tiny black kitten — “We just loved him immediately!” says Laura — who was only a few weeks old when he and his litter mates showed up at their home in September 2015, naming him Ryder.
Shortly after they rescued Ryder — “We did attempt to catch his siblings and cat mom for weeks, with no luck,” says Laura — the couple took the little kitten with unusual eyes to their vet for a thorough examination, as well as to learn more about feline eyelid agenesis.
“It is a genetic condition seen in primarily outdoor and stray cat births,” explains Laura. “Some vets believe there is an environmental factor — a stray momma cat is exposed to a certain chemical or contaminant while pregnant — that causes the genetic defect since it is not typically seen in indoor cat populations.”
Laura and her husband also learned that because Ryder was born without eyelids, the young cat’s eyes were at risk. “He is more likely to injure his eyes since he has less protection,” says Laura, and one of the biggest threats to a cat with eyelid agenesis is actually their own hair. As a result, cats with eyelid agenesis may need to have cryosurgery to remove their eyelashes and the hair around their eyes, and in some instances, a veterinarian may recommend eyelid reconstruction.
“Cases can be more or less severe,” explains Laura, “and usually come along with other eye abnormalities that need to be addressed individually.” While Laura and her husband weren’t expecting to adopt a cat with special needs when they decided to help Ryder, the couple wasn’t the least bit deterred by the veterinarian’s diagnosis. “Even after we realized he would need a lot of medical attention and care for his condition,” remembers Laura, “we never once thought about giving him up.”
After all, aside from having eyelid agenesis, Ryder was a happy and healthy kitten who desperately needed a family to love and take care of him, and it didn’t take long for him to form a strong bond with Laura and her husband. “He loves being the center of attention and making new friends,” says Laura. “He is also a big cuddle monster and loves to fall asleep in our laps.”
Shortly after the couple adopted Ryder, they arranged for him to have cryosurgery to remove the hair around his eyes, concluding it would be the best decision for his long-term health. “During his surgery he had moisture-producing tissue added around his eye so he can self lubricate,” explains Laura, so while Ryder is not able to close his eyes like a typical cat, his eyes don’t dry out, nor does he have any trouble sleeping.
Shortly after his cryosurgery, some of the hair around Ryder’s eyes — which had been removed with a laser — returned. “The hair that did grow back around his eyes grew in white!” says Laura, a fairly common side effect for cats who undergo the procedure.
While Ryder no longer has to worry about his own hair and eyelashes coming into contact with his eyes, he’s still vulnerable to foreign objects and particles. “We keep him out of situations where he could scratch [his eyes] or get a lot of debris in them,” explains Laura. “He is strictly indoors, as are all our cats.”
It’s been more than two years since Ryder showed up at their house, and Laura and her husband are so thankful they made the decision to rescue him. “We have a special bond,” says Laura. “He follows me everywhere, sleeps next to me every night.” When this beautiful black cat isn’t cuddling up with his parents, Ryder loves to play fetch with his favorite mouse toy, and he enjoys chasing after ice cubes and hanging out in boxes, just like a typical feline.
While Ryder requires more care than the average cat, Laura is confident he’s a happy and healthy boy who genuinely loves life. Plus, because Ryder has special needs, the bond she shares with him is unique and incredibly deep. “He trusts me and depends on me in a way no other cat ever has,” says Laura.
Plus, Laura has had the joy of watching Ryder blossom from a tiny, homeless kitten into a strong and confident cat, and she hopes other people will consider opening their homes to special needs cats like him. “It’s very rewarding to see them grow after all they’ve been through,” says Laura.
When Laura and her husband opened their door more than two years ago to help a kitten in need, all of the cats ran off, except for Ryder, almost as if he knew he needed the couple’s help in order to survive.
Undoubtedly, this handsome black cat with eyelid agenesis is extremely fortunate that when he was just a few weeks old, he was rescued by a pair of animal lovers who have proven time and time again that they are willing to do whatever it takes to give him the happy and healthy life he deserves. “I am completely devoted to him and would do anything for him,” says Laura. “He is such a special cat with such a big personality.”
However, Laura insists Ryder isn’t the only who had a bit of good fortune when she and her husband found him. “Ryder is my everything!” says Laura. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Ryder on Instagram.