When Julie Wilding and her partner Steve were contacted by their local animal charity about fostering a special needs cat named Toby, the couple from Lancaster, England, eagerly agreed. Julie and Steve had already provided temporary homes to lots of animals in over need over the course of several years, so they were more than happy to have Toby stay with them until he found his forever family. “Our main love is giving a home to old or ill cats for end of life care, feral cats, and difficult cats with behavioral problems,” explains Julie, “because, sadly, no one really seemed to want them.”
However, while Julie and Steve had fostered lots of different cats in the past, they’d never met a kitty quite like Toby. “Toby was found in a garden in November 2013, wet through and cold, unable to move,” says Julie. The person who discovered the black and white kitten contacted the local animal charity, and the organization took Toby to a veterinarian for a thorough examination.
The vet determined Toby was approximately six months old, and he had some movement in his front legs, while his back legs appeared to be paralyzed. Initially, the vet thought the young cat might have been hit by a car, but x-rays revealed none of his bones were broken, so they concluded Toby might have been treated with flea medicine for dogs, which can be toxic to cats and has been known to cause paralysis in felines.
“He had slight movement in his front paws and could drag himself along at that time,” explains Julie, “so it was decided to find him a foster home and hope that it was a temporary paralysis and that he might regain some movement. The vets and volunteers at the charity wanted to give him a chance.” However, not long after Toby went to his foster home, instead of regaining more control of his limbs, he actually lost control of his front paws.
Toby’s first foster mother lived in an apartment, and the charity’s coordinator thought the handsome special needs cat might benefit from being able to spend supervised time outside, so she contacted Julie, who has a yard and spends much of her time at home. “I suffer from agoraphobia and ill health and would be able to spend a lot of time with him,” says Julie.
On April 13, 2014, Steve picked up Toby from his foster mom and brought the paralyzed cat back home to meet Julie for the first time. “When he arrived home, I found this floppy but handsome boy with the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen,” remembers Julie, “but it was quite a shock. I hadn’t really understood the extent of his disabilities to be honest.”
While Toby had control of both his bladder and his bowels, he was paralyzed below the neck, causing this handsome boy to need a fair amount of help from Julie and Steve. Initially, the couple struggled with caring for Toby, and it took this adorable special needs cat a few weeks to simply adjust to his new home. However, Toby eventually developed a strong and loving relationship with the couple, and the three of them developed a routine that worked for everyone involved.
It didn’t take long for Julie and Steve to form an unbreakable bond with this remarkable cat, and they officially adopted Toby in December 2014. More than three years later, Toby — who experts didn’t expect to live past his second birthday — is a happy and healthy cat, although he remains paralyzed from the neck down. “They now think it is a neurological problem and that he could have had a difficult birth,” says Julie. “Really only Toby knows how he ended up there and he’s not telling!”
Thankfully, his parents are dedicated to giving Toby the best life possible, and they regularly take him on adventures to see trains, construction equipment, and cars. “Anything noisy and he’s a happy boy!” says Julie. “His eyes light up when we get his little outfits out and he knows he’s going for a ride or a walk.” Toby has a lower body temperature than a typical cat, so when he goes out, he often wears clothing to stay nice and warm.
When Toby’s not out on an adventure, this handsome black and white cat enjoys getting groomed, playing with catnip toys, spending time in the sun, and of course, cuddling with his parents. “If he’s with me,” says Julie, “then he is happy.” While it’s hard for some people to understand how a cat who is paralyzed from the neck down can actually have a fun and fulfilling life, Julie is adamant that Toby isn’t the least bit sad or unhappy.
“I understand a lot of cats may not cope with the level of Toby’s disabilities and you have to take each cat on its own personality,” says Julie, “but don’t just presume they are unhappy or stressed without really giving them a chance to show you how resilient they can be and that they can adjust if given time and patience.”
While a lot of people have been supportive of Toby — including many of the Lancaster residents who enjoy seeing this special cat when he’s out with his parents, taking in the sights and sounds — not everyone is convinced that Julie and Steve are doing what’s best for him. “We had one specific incident where a lady contacted welfare groups and local vets to say that she had seen Toby out and about and it was cruel,” says Julie, “and he should be put to sleep and that we were parading him around for our amusement!”
Not surprisingly, Julie and Steve — who have dedicated their lives to caring for Toby — were shaken by this stranger’s comments and criticism. “This lady had only seen Toby via his Facebook page and had never met him or us,” says Julie, “and she caused a lot of upset and tears.”
Thankfully, the vast majority of people — including Toby’s veterinarian — have nothing but positive words to say about this handsome little cat and his parents, but Julie says she’s always more than happy to answer any questions people have about his condition. “I would rather people ask me about their concerns so I can answer them honestly than have people make their own minds up about him without even meeting him or us,” says Julie.
For Julie and Steve, Toby’s quality of life is paramount, and they are dedicated to always acting in his best interests, no matter what. “We love him and just want what is best for him,” says Julie. While the couple has fostered many cats in the past, Julie and Steve agree that the deep relationship they’ve formed with Toby is truly unique and one they both treasure. “We have that special bond with him and we feel very blessed that we found each other and that we are his mum and dad,” says Julie. “We love him to bits and cannot imagine our lives without him now.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Toby on Facebook.