Collin and his partner Daria were scrolling through Instagram in September 2016 when a post from Cats of Instagram about an incredibly cute ginger kitten and his siblings caught their attention. “He was being fostered by FosterKittys, and we thought he and his littermates were adorable,” remembers Collin. Over the course of the next month, this Salt Lake City couple watched as the tiny felines grew into young cats, all through social media.
When the kittens were just a few weeks old, two of them were diagnosed with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition that affects balance and coordination. “It’s most commonly caused by a viral infection in the mother cat while she’s pregnant,” explains Collin. “The virus attacks the growing cerebellum and it never fully develops.”
Collin, who earned his PhD studying deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease, and Daria, who is currently finishing her doctoral degree in the same field of study, thought they might be able to provide a good home to one of the kittens, but they were thousands of miles away in Utah.
However, when all of the cats, except for a little orange kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia, managed to find forever homes, the couple reached out to their foster mom, Debbie, to see if she would consider allowing them to adopt the young special needs cat. “We were fortunate enough to be approved,” says Collin, “so I flew out, met him for the first time when adopting him, and then flew him home.”
Having named their other cat Tyrion in honor of a character from Game of Thrones, Collin and Daria christened the kitten Phineas, an ode to Finn from Star Wars. “We figured we could name him after some kind of TV or movie character as well,” explains Collin. Shortly after arriving at Collin and Daria’s house in January 2017, Phin made himself right at home, showing his new parents and brother just how fun-loving and resilient cats with cerebellar hypoplasia can be.
“The cerebellum is really important for balance, coordinating movement, and correcting errors in movements, so without a fully developed cerebellum, it’s typical to have balance and coordination problems, with frequent falls,” explains Collin.
Being an energetic and curious kitten, Phin was eager to explore every inch of his new home, and even though he fell repeatedly, he got back up time and time again. While Collin and Daria were expecting the young ginger cat to be wobbly and unstable on his feet, what they hadn’t anticipated was for Phin to have bowel issues.
“We discovered after adopting Phin that his colon doesn’t work so well, and he was getting pretty constipated and backed up,” explains Collin. “For the first two months we had him, we had a lot of issues with getting some medications dialed in correctly, so he would oscillate between being unable to poop easily and pooping too easily and making a mess.” However, Collin and Daria were determined to find a solution to Phin’s bowel problems, and after adjusting his medications, they eventually found the right dosages for this very special cat.
More than two years later, Phin is doing is great, and while people often assume special needs cats require a lot of time and care, Collin and Daria haven’t found him to be all that difficult to look after. “He honestly hasn’t been too challenging of a cat!” says Collin, and because cerebellar hypoplasia is non-progressive, his symptoms won’t worsen — or improve — over time.
Another common misconception is that cats with cerebellar hypoplasia are unhappy or in pain, but Phin’s parents say this couldn’t be further from the truth for this fun-loving guy. “He’s a very happy, playful kitty with a huge personality and a love for play time, his family, and food,” says Colin. In fact, Colin and Daria believe Phin is more affectionate than the average cat and they share a unique bond with him that they haven’t had with another pet.
“Phin is unbelievably kind and sweet with us, and he absolutely loves cuddling, grooming us — nothing like a tongue on the face early in the morning — and just spending time with us,” says Collin. In addition to snuggling with his parents, this exuberant ginger boy loves to eat, and he enjoys playing with his toys or his siblings, Tyrion the cat and Holly the dog.
While Collin and Daria appreciate that not everyone is in a position to adopt a cat with special needs, they hope by sharing Phin’s story, more people might consider opening their homes to other types of kitties who are often overlooked.
“If you have the means to give a home to a cat or dog, you should consider giving a home to an animal that might have a harder time getting adopted,” says Collin. “Most kittens and puppies will get adopted easily very quickly, but the special needs animals, older, shy, or black cats often sit around without finding the love they need and deserve.”
After all, Phin had trouble getting adopted, and he had to travel two thousand miles to find the perfect home. Despite never meeting this wobbly boy in person before making the decision to adopt him, Collin and Daria are so happy they were given the chance to make Phin a member of their family.
“Phin means the world to us!” says Collin. “He’s such a sweet little cat, and he brings a ton of happiness into our lives. The whole family — including Holly and Tyrion — adores him, and we all just want him to have a happy, healthy life full of lots of play, food, and love.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Phineas on InstagramInstagram.