Shortly after Stacey Smart and her family lost their dog Summer in 2017, they began spending more time with Darwin, the senior cat they’d adopted in the spring of 2005 when he was just a few weeks old. “Darwin came to us as a wonderful, spirited kitten!” says Stacey, and he got his name because he immediately settled into his new home, bonding with every member of his family, including Summer, his canine sister.
“The dog always wanted to put his little kitten head into her slobbery mouth,” explains Stacey. At the time, Stacey’s children were five and eight and very rambunctious, but Darwin’s big personality prevented him from getting overlooked.
Over the course of more than a decade, Darwin’s bond with his family grew stronger and stronger, and when Summer passed away in 2017, he quickly became the center of attention in his home.
“He spent a lot more time with us, playing on our bed, hanging out in our laps,” says Stacey. “That was when we noticed that one of his eyes was looking a little different.” Concerned, Stacey and her husband Ryan took Darwin to the vet in August 2017, and the 12-year-old feline was diagnosed with glaucoma and referred to Dr. Hanks at Kindred Spirits in nearby Orrington, Maine.
“After many appointments to solve this problem without surgery, he had his third eyelid sewn shut, wore a cone for quite a while, and we had to give him three kinds of drops four times a day,” remembers Stacey.
Needless to say, no one — especially Darwin — was happy about this routine, but Stacey and her husband were willing to do whatever they had to do to prevent the senior feline from losing his eye. However, in October 2017, Darwin developed a bullous keropathy — “A super gross bubble on the cornea,” explains Stacey — and everyone agreed removing the affected eye was probably the best long-term solution.
“The surgery went great and he was an entirely new cat within a week,” says Stacey. “He was feeling better and was far more playful than before.” Just as he’d adapted quickly as a kitten, Darwin adjusted to life as a one-eyed cat, and shortly after the surgery, his family adopted Mitchard, a feline friend to keep him company.
Over the course of the following year, the pair became best buddies, but in October 2018, Darwin’s remaining eye became cloudy, and Stacey immediately suspected glaucoma. Concerned the senior cat might end up losing his remaining eye, Stacey made a vet appointment for Darwin, and she also began researching blind cats online.
“There is an alarmingly small amount of information on the internet about blind cats,” says Stacey, “so, we turned to Instagram. There are a number of blind kitties on there that we were able to connect with.” After speaking with multiple caregivers of blind cats, Stacey felt confident Darwin — who had shown a tremendous amount of resilience throughout his life — would be able to thrive without vision, so when he was diagnosed with glaucoma yet again, she and the vet agreed that it would be best for the handsome ginger cat to have surgery for a second time.
“The vet did let us know that this would probably be the best option for Darwin, as losing sight in his remaining eye was causing him to take longer to adjust to not being able to see,” explains Stacey. “With no vision at all, he would have to adjust to his surroundings using his other senses.” In addition to having his eye removed, Darwin had dental surgery at the same time, which made his recovery fairly difficult, especially because he didn’t want to eat and required a feeding tube for a few weeks.
However, by January 2019, Darwin was feeling much better, and he began learning how to navigate his home as a completely blind cat. “He did do a lot of bumping into stuff, and we had to really keep up with making sure he had clear paths everywhere,” says Stacey.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Darwin to adjust to life as a blind cat, and several months later, he has no trouble finding his food, bed, litter box, or the people and animals who share his home, including his new feline sister, Mabel.
“Darwin still plays with toys and he loves scratching his claws on his scratching post,” says Stacey. “He sleeps near the other cats and he shares food and treats with them.”
However, Darwin doesn’t enjoy being picked up and carried into another room — “He loses his mental map of where he is,” explains Stacey — and doesn’t like when Mabel or Mitchard sneaks up on him, so they now wear collars with bells, making it much harder for them to ambush their older brother.
Aside from these relatively minor issues, Darwin is doing extremely well, and while he can’t see, that doesn’t prevent him from attacking his family’s hands and feet under the covers or enjoying a long nap in front of an open window. “He also loves catnip toys, a good brushing, dinner, snacks, and breakfast,” says Stacey. “Every package you open within earshot he thinks is a treat bag so he’ll come find you – then guilt you into giving him treats.”
While it’s obvious Darwin is thriving, not everyone realizes blind cats can have happy, active, and extremely fulfilling lives. Fortunately, this handsome senior feline is a wonderful ambassador for blind cats, especially those who lose their vision later in life, and Stacey and her family are more than happy to help Darwin share his story.
“We’ve had to do some educating our family and friends about our cat with no eyes,” explains Stacey. “People had no idea that a cat can be totally blind and still have a great quality of life.”
Thankfully, Darwin’s family has always had faith in his ability to adapt and persevere, making this truly special boy an inspiration to the people who have known him since he was a tiny kitten. “Darwin is our big man. He is the strong, independent mascot for our family,” says Stacey. “Darwin is the king of our castle, and always will be.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Darwin on Instagram.