Robin was working as a foster care coordinator at an animal shelter near her home in Chicago, when a dozen kittens from two different litters were admitted to the facility in October 2013. “They were found taped up in a cardboard box in a pantry in a condo being moved into,” says Robin. Being a fan of black cats, Robin was immediately smitten with Mattaponi, who was approximately six weeks old, and she placed him and his siblings in a wonderful foster home.
However, not long after he arrived at his foster home, the little black kitten began displaying some worrying symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a group of connective tissue disorders that can cause animals and people to have unusually fragile and elastic skin. “Fairly quickly his excellent foster noticed signs of his condition — wounds that wouldn’t heal or bleed — and he was separated from his siblings for his safety,” remembers Robin.
Eventually, Mattaponi had to return to the shelter, and because he needed to be separated from other cats for his own safety, he lived in the clinic office. Due to having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or feline cutaneous asthenia (FCA) as the condition is known when it affects cats, the shelter wanted Mattaponi to find a home where he would be the only pet.
After all, because of their incredibly delicate skin, cats with EDS can suffer severe injuries from playing with other animals and even from simply scratching themselves with their claws. “I did try to work on getting him adopted by any cat-less friends,” remembers Robin, but she was unsuccessful, so she made sure to give Mattaponi as much attention as possible. “I would eat lunch or take breaks to visit him.”
Over time, Robin developed a unique bond with the friendly special needs kitten, and when she got home from work each day, she would tell her partner Rhodrick about her daily interactions with Mattaponi.
Consequently, when she discovered at a monthly staff meeting that Mattaponi’s vet at the shelter was considering euthanizing him due to his condition and potential complications, Robin knew she had to do something to help him. “I spoke to her right after the meeting and talked about the fact that we had other cats and worked out a plan for that,” explains Robin. “I talked to Rhodrick about it and he agreed to bring him home. He said he thought we needed each other.”
On February 16, 2014, Robin and Rhodrick brought Mattaponi home, believing he probably would only live a few more months before suffering some sort of fatal injury or infection. However, more than six years later, this handsome boy is doing great! “He loves to cuddle and be carried — many times perching himself on our shoulders like a parrot,” says Robin, and while his EDS causes him to get tired more easily than a typical cat, Mattaponi is a very active boy. “Running on his wheel is always a fun time for him but he abuses it a bit to try to get more food.”
In addition to eating, snuggling, and running on his wheel, this 6-year-old special needs kitty loves playing with twist ties, trying to catch the red dot, and of course, knocking stuff on to the floor, proving Mattaponi’s not all that different from the average feline.
However, due to his EDS, Mattaponi has a heart murmur, and his skin is very dry, elastic, and fragile, so Robin and Rhodrick monitor his health closely and take steps to prevent him from getting hurt. “His skin tears very easily from his nails or teeth or sharp objects,” says Robin, so they make sure to trim his claws every two weeks. “Sometimes we glue nail caps or have him wear shirts to help prevent injury.”
Thanks to his parents, Mattaponi is thriving despite having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Robin has actually had people ask her where they can get a cat with the same condition, mistakenly assuming he’s an exotic breed of feline with saggy skin. “It is a very rare genetic mutation,” says Robin. “It is not a condition I would wish on any cat.”
However, because Mattaponi has Ehler-Danlos syndrome, Robin has been introduced to an incredible community of people and animals with the condition, as well as lots of other special needs cats. While she knows not everyone is capable of caring for a cat with EDS, Robin hopes sharing Mattaponi’s story will inspire others to adopt pets who often having trouble finding homes, including those who are overlooked simply for being shy. “There are so many special needs animals out there with a wide range of conditions that there is always the one who can fit your family,” says Robin.
Fortunately for Mattaponi, who was at risk of being put to sleep because of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, he’s right at home with Robin and Rhodrick. While he may have his ups and downs, this special boy knows he can count on his parents for comfort and kindness, and Robin and Rhodrick are constantly inspired by Mattaponi’s ability to cope with adversity. “Something like that just puts life into perspective,” says Robin. “He is resilient through and through.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Mattaponi on Instagram.