When Aimee Ross was fostering for Kitten Inn, a rescue near her home in Featherston, New Zealand, that focuses on helping kittens and pregnant cats, she learned about Muffin, a tiny feline who appeared to have special needs. “Muffin was born in foster care to a very sick mother cat, with another fosterer,” explains Aimee. “Muffin was the runt and very slow to grow.”
By the time Muffin reached four weeks old, it was obvious she was different from the typical kitten: unlike her litter mates, she wasn’t trying to explore her environment, and she became distressed any time she was away from her biological mother. “Her foster mum recognized Muffin had something wrong with her eyesight pretty early on,” remembers Aimee. “When I heard about Muffins issues, I immediately asked if I could go and meet her.”
At the end of April 2018, Aimee met Muffin for the first time at her foster mother’s home, and she was immediately smitten with the adorable 6-week-old kitten. “From the second I walked into her fostering room and saw Muffin, I knew she would be coming home with me,” says Aimee. “Watching her try to feel her way towards me and bobbing her head around listening to my voice, I fell madly in love. The moment I first held her was pretty special.”
Muffin, who was born with micropthalmia — a congenital condition that causes cats to have underdeveloped and abnormally small was eyes — was completely blind, and she needed to be in a home where she would have nearly constant supervision. “She was starting to try and explore in her foster home and it was getting dangerous,” explains Aimee. “Her foster mum came home and found her stuck on a cat tower and she had cried herself hoarse in distress.”
Aimee, who works from home, knew she would be able to give Muffin the close supervision she required. Plus, she and her partner Grant already had experiencing care for a cat with special needs, having adopted Freya, who is partially blind and has a heart condition and brain damage. “We had been keeping an eye out for another special needs cat to offer a home to, to keep Freya company,” says Aimee, so she and Grant adopted Muffin, bringing her home a week later.
After arriving at her forever home, Muffin immediately got to work familiarizing herself with her new environment, relying on her other senses to get the lay of land. “She spent the first three days mentally mapping out our house with her nose glued to the floor sniffing her way around the whole house,” remembers Aimee.The little blind kitten also bonded with her parents and Aimee and Grant’s other pets, including Ozkar the dog.
While Muffin was enjoying her new home, due to her malformed eyelids, she struggled with constant irritation, which eventually caused her to have severe eye infections. However, she was much too small to undergo surgery, and it wasn’t until Muffin was nine months old that she was able to have a complex and specially designed operation.
“I am extremely fortunate in that my vet is also one of my closest friends,” says Aimee. “She spent a lot of time researching, consulting, and planning with an ophthalmology vet, designing a surgery to fit Muffin’s issues and size. The change was instantaneous. Suddenly, we could see these bright, beautiful ice blue eyes, she was so much happier, and the infections disappeared overnight.”
When Muffin was a year old, she had to have a relatively minor corrective eye surgery, but since then, this adorable girl hasn’t needed any other operations. Today, this fun and feisty feline is doing great, and while Muffin was once quite timid in her foster home, she’s now full of confidence and enthusiasm. “She now throws herself off the cat tower and furniture, chases Ozkar our dog around the house, climbs the coat rack, and plays and acts like a ‘normal’ cat,” says Aimee. “Her favorite pastime, however, is stealing, Muffin is a raging kleptomaniac. If it’s not bolted down, hanging from the ceiling, or in a drawer, she will attempt to steal it.”
In addition to stealing and hiding household items like pens, jewelry, socks, coasters, golf balls, eyeglasses, and even wallets, Muffin enjoys pestering Ozkar, getting some fresh air in the catio, and playing with her favorite toy, a stuffed fish “She brings him to me at least 10 times a day for me to play with him with her,” says Aimee. “She sits there tapping and whacking me until I cave in.”
While Muffin no longer needs a lot of additional care, Aimee and Grant make sure to hold her very securely when they pick her up because she can get distressed otherwise. They also have a pet sitter visit their home when they’re away instead of boarding her somewhere, as a change in environment would be too stressful for Muffin. “Occasionally, if we shut a door that’s normally open — or vice versa — she will run straight into it, but she mostly gets around without needing any help,” explains Aimee. “We teach her how to reach out for things or move to different levels or platforms by tapping the ground or surface so she can figure out by hearing where the solid surfaces are.”
Thanks to Aimee and Grant’s hard work, Muffin is now able to jump from one level in her catio to another, just like her sighted siblings. While Aimee realizes not everyone is willing or able to invest the sort of time and money Muffin has required over the past year, she hopes people will still consider adopting special needs cats. “You don’t have to change your whole life to fit around them and not all of them are going to need surgery,” says Aimee.
Plus, Muffin — who adores helping her parents care for their neonatal foster kittens — is just as affectionate and playful as any other feline, and she routinely inspires Aimee and Grant with her tenacity and courage, so much so that this couple can’t imagine adopting a cat who doesn’t have special needs.
“They are just as loving and deserving of love as any other cat,” explains Aimee. “They are brave, self-sufficient, and cheeky, like any other pet. Their ability to beat the odds and deal with their limitations with nothing but joy and curiosity is just incredible to watch and very inspiring.”
For Aimee, who was going through a health issue when she and Grant adopted Muffin, this remarkable little cat gave her the motivation she needed to persevere. “If she fell or slipped or stumbled, she didn’t give up — she just tried again,” says Aimee, which is why she and Grant are so thankful to have Muffin in their lives, even if she regularly steals and hides their belongings. “She is brave, confident, funny, naughty, affectionate, and cuddly. Muffin is my world.”
To learn more about this stunning cat, you can follow Muffin on Instagram.