When Maria Matticola saw a photo on social media of a little Siamese kitten at the shelter near her home in San Antonio, Texas, who was at risk of being euthanized, she knew she had to help the 5-week-old cat.
“He was brought into the local city shelter with wounds on his head as an assumed dog bite victim,” explains Maria. “The shelter treated his open wounds, but when he was healed, he was placed on the ‘urgent’ list of animals at risk of euthanasia due to lack of space or being unable to care for themselves.”
San Antonio Pets Alive (SAPA), the rescue Maria has fostered more than 150 animals for, shared his picture online, and she immediately volunteered to look after him until he was ready to be adopted. “I love Siamese cats, and have a habit of falling for the needy medical cases as a foster, so he tugged on all of my heartstrings,” says Maria.
When Maria picked the kitten up from the shelter on June 20, 2018, he was unable to eat on his own, he had a misshapen head due to the injuries he’d sustained, and he was even smaller than she’d imagined.
“When I brought him home, his misshapen head was so obvious compared to his big ears due to him being significantly underweight, so I started calling him ‘my Gremlin,’ ” explains Maria.
Over time, she began calling him Gizmo, the adorable mogwai creature from the popular 1980s film, and the name eventually stuck. At first, Gizmo was thriving in his foster home, and Maria was certain it wouldn’t be long until he found his forever home.
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However, on July 4, 2018, he began showing some extremely worrying symptoms that required immediate medical attention. “His leg swelled up to about four times its normal size and ruptured from an abscess,” says Maria. “A scab on his head went to get cleaned and the skin just sloughed off. Then his head abscessed and it just cycled on from there.”
Initially, vets were perplexed by Gizmo’s symptoms, and Maria grew increasingly more desperate for answers as she watched her foster kitten deteriorate right before her eyes.
Maria was determined to get Gizmo the help he needed, and after seeing multiple veterinary professionals, he was eventually diagnosed with feline cutaneous asthenia (FCA), or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of connective tissue disorders that affect people and animals, causing them to have unusually fragile, stretchy, and loose skin, and sometimes even tendon and ligament laxity.
“Gizmo came to me with messed up front paws — after his diagnosis it was concluded that due to his EDS his ligaments were shifting his bone structure, causing his paws to be misshapen,” explains Maria. “His skin is like butter, and super fragile.”
Due to their fragile skin, cats with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can cause serious injuries to themselves simply when playing or grooming, which means they often require more supervision and care than the average feline. Consequently, cats with EDS usually wear clothing to protect their delicate skin, and some vets even recommend declawing as a last resort if other measures — such as nail caps — fail to work.
Knowing it would be very hard for Gizmo to find a home with someone who would be willing to give him the care needed, and already smitten with the unique kitten, Maria adopted him shortly after he was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. “I did everything imaginable to keep him alive and healing,” says Maria. “I just couldn’t imagine him living with anyone else but me.”
Several months later, Gizmo is doing well, but because there is no cure for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, his mom has to manage his symptoms on a daily basis. “Gizmo has to wear clothes all the time, and due to his fascination with tearing up his neck from over-grooming, he also wears a cone mostly 24/7, as well as nail caps when I can get them on his back paws,” says Maria.
Despite needing extra care, Gizmo is a very happy and active young cat who likes to eat, play with his toys, and cuddle with his mom and the other cats who share his home. “He loves to have his neck and head rubbed — by people, by animals, he doesn’t care,” says Maria. “He loves to shove his head in other cat’s faces to get them to groom him, or rub his own head on my chin or shoulder or anything he can get to when I’m laying down.”
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For Maria, one of the biggest challenges caring for a cat with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome has been figuring out how to protect Gizmo while still allowing him to enjoy life and to get the socialization he needs to be a healthy and well-rounded feline. “If he plays with other kittens, there’s a risk that he’ll just constantly tear open all the time,” explains Maria, “but if I keep him ‘in a bubble’ away from everyone, he gets ‘single kitten syndrome’ and plays too rough and hurts himself.”
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While Maria realizes not everyone is willing and able to care for a cat with severe Ehlers-Danlos syndrome like Gizmo, she hopes other people will still consider adopting special needs felines instead of immediately writing them off as too needy. “I wish more people would have the courage to ask questions about care before they decide a special needs pet wouldn’t fit their family,” says Maria.
Fortunately for Gizmo — who is going to celebrate his first birthday on May 13, 2019 — he found somewhere he belongs with a mom who loves him unconditionally. While Maria definitely wasn’t planning on adopting another cat when she met Gizmo, his special needs made her love him more, not less, making it impossible for her to part with him.
“He was so hard to get healthy, but even all torn up he would just purr and cuddle up with me — rubbing all over — and there was no way I was ever going to stop fighting for him until he decided he was done,” says Maria. “He’s my baby, and I couldn’t imagine going back to a less interesting life without him.”
To learn more about this adorable kitten, you can follow Gizmo on Instagram.