When Tina, an experienced cat foster mom for Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, was asked to care for a litter of four kittens in March 2016, she eagerly agreed to help the young felines who were just a few weeks old.
“The rescue emailed me and asked if I was willing to take four kittens with eye problems — one of which was severe,” remembers Tina, “[They said] he was half the size and he might not make it. I said ‘of course’ and picked them up that afternoon.”
While all of the kittens were in rough shape, Best Friends Animal Society was particularly concerned about one of the young cats, a ginger boy named Benny who had been born without eyelids, a congenital condition known as feline eyelid agenesis.
“It’s most common in feral colonies and is usually due to the mother cat being malnourished,” explains Tina. “When we initially got Benny and his siblings, they all had corneal ulcers.” With the help of medicated drops, Tina was able to save all of the kittens’ eyes, although it took longer for Benny to heal than his siblings.
He was also the runt of the litter, so while the other kittens got bigger, Benny lagged behind. “He didn’t grow until he was two months old,” says Tina. “His siblings hit two pounds at two months, but Benny didn’t hit two pounds until he was four months old.”
However, what Benny lacked in size, he more than made up for in personality, and as he got older, Tina knew there was no way she would ever be able to let the spunky orange kitten go. “Since he had so many problems aside from his eyelids as a kitten and we weren’t sure he’d survive, I spent endless hours just cuddling him,” explains Tina.
As a result, the two formed a very special bond, and while Benny’s siblings went to their forever homes, Tina decided to keep the cute ginger kitten. Having adopted Norman, a three-legged cat, in 2012 after she realized he kept getting passed over time and time again, Tina knew that kitties with special needs often have trouble finding homes, even though they are usually no different from typical felines. “Norman is the sweetest, funniest, most loving little guy and he does everything cats with four legs do,” says Tina. “It made us realize how much harder it is to find homes for cats that are different.”
Fortunately for Benny, he didn’t have difficulty getting adopted, and while he struggled as a kitten, today he’s a happy, healthy, and active cat with perfect vision. It’s been more than two years since Tina and Benny met for the first time, and he’s doing exceptionally well, although he has had a couple of medical procedures since he found his forever home.
Because cats like Benny don’t have lids to protect their eyes, they’re at risk of injuring their corneas, and one of the biggest threats is their own hair. “He’s had a two part eyelid reconstructive surgery and has had to have hairs that were rubbing against his eyes frozen off a couple of times,” explains Tina.
Without treatment, Benny’s eyes would have been irritated and prone to infection, which could have resulted in blindness. However, not all cats with eyelid agenesis need to have reconstructive surgery or procedures like cryotherapy. “They may need a little extra care, but it’s not a big deal,” says Tina. “Many eyelid agenesis cats don’t need anything more than eye lubricant a few times a day.”
While cats with eyelid agenesis may look a bit different from the average feline, Tina is certain that Benny and kitties like him are typical cats in every other way. “I wish people knew that they’re no different than any other cat,” says Tina. “They are just as playful, loving, and fun as a ‘regular’ cat.”
Benny, who loves wand toys and running on his wheel, has tons of energy, and he enjoys roughhousing with his siblings, including the many foster kittens his mom brings home from Best Friends Animal Society. “Benny’s favorite activity is harassing his siblings,” says Tina. “He loves to wrestle and play with them.”
Even though Benny is a fairly typical cat, Tina admits she shares a unique bond with this handsome ginger boy who she has known since he was just a few weeks old, sickly and with a very uncertain future. Thankfully, Tina was there to help Benny through these incredibly difficult weeks, giving him the love and care he needed to thrive, and it’s obvious that he is well aware of everything his mom did to comfort him and save his life.
“Benny is my heart and my shadow,” says Tina. “I couldn’t love any soul more than I love him. He’s a special little soul: so resilient, so full of life, and so stubborn, which is why I think he survived when all the odds were against him.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Benny on Instagram.