When the staff at Animal Haven, a Manhattan rescue, learned that a handsome black cat with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) had been taken to Animal Care Centers — a New York City shelter — as a stray, they knew they wanted to help the special needs kitty. “We have a soft spot for special needs animals,” says Moira Connelly, an Animal Care Specialist at Animal Haven, “so when we heard [his] story, we knew we had to help him.”
On March 2, 2017, the cat — who had been named Aruba by Animal Care Centers — arrived at Animal Haven, and a medical examination revealed he was approximately eight years old and had relatively mild CH, a non-progressive neurological condition that can impact balance and coordination. “Cats with this condition walk with a bit of a funny gait and often topple over as if they’d had a bit too much to drink,” explains Moira. “CH can occur for several reasons, but most commonly happens if the mother cat is malnourished during her pregnancy or exposed to toxins or viruses that affect the brain development of her fetuses.”
Thankfully, the staff at Animal Haven had lots of experience caring for cats with CH, so they were ready, willing, and able to help this charming wobbly boy. However, they all agreed that the name he’d been given at the shelter didn’t fit him, and after trying out lots of different nicknames, one of Animal Haven’s biggest supporters christened him Walter Pickles. “He’s such a character,” says Moira, “that the name seemed to fit him perfectly.”
Due to Walter’s lack of coordination, the staff at Animal Haven decided one of their typical cat cabins wouldn’t give him adequate room to maneuver around, so this dapper black cat has the run of the rescue’s office where “he reigns supreme.” This arrangement suits Walter perfectly, because while he doesn’t get along well with other cats, he absolutely adores being around people. “Walter loves cuddle time,” says Moira, “and gets quite upset if he does not get quality time spooning with his favorite people.”
Thankfully, not only are the staff quite happy to snuggle with this affectionate wobbly cat, they’re also more than willing to assist Walter as he goes about his daily routine, including meal times. Like many other CH cats, Walter tends to move his head a lot when he gets excited, which often happens when it’s time for him to eat, so he needs a little help with his breakfast and dinner.
“He likes to lean up against people or sit on their lap at meal time,” explains Moira. “This gives him stability and makes eating easier. He also loves to be spoon-fed. Walter came up with these techniques on his own, and nudges his staff into his preferred feeding position.”
Obviously, Walter is an incredibly clever cat who has no difficulty communicating his needs to the people around him, demonstrating that while CH impacts the brain, it certainly doesn’t affect intelligence. “Walter is smart as a whip,” says Moira, “and has trained all our staff and volunteers to spoil him quite lavishly.”
However, like a lot of cats with CH, Walter’s balance issues make it difficult for him to go to bathroom like a typical feline, but this crafty kitty has found a method of relieving himself that works well for him and the staff at Animal Haven. “It is hard for him to squat in the box like other cats,” explains Moira, “so he figured out how to hop into the box and lay on his side to do his business.”
While this wobbly boy can’t jump like the average feline, Walter uses his upper body strength to get pretty much anywhere he wants to go simply by pulling himself up by his front legs. Walter can even run, although he’s more likely to fall over than a typical cat, and he loves batting around his catnip toys, watching aquarium videos, and observing Animal Haven’s resident guinea pigs.
It’s been nearly a year since Walter arrived at the rescue, and it’s no surprise that he’s endeared himself to everyone at Animal Haven. “We’d all love to take him home,” says Moira, “but Walter gets stressed out around other cats. Being cat lovers we all have other kitties and often foster as well.”
Consequently, this handsome wobbly cat is still looking for his forever home, and the staff at Animal Haven is confident the right person for Walter is out there. “Special needs cats are smart, resourceful, playful and can live happy, full lives,” says Moira, and Walter is sure to bring so much to the lives of his forever family, although the rescue’s volunteers and staff will surely miss him. “He gives us all a reason to smile on a rough day and inspires us with his determination and big personality,” says Moira. “He is such a happy, loving boy.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Walter on Instagram.
If you think Walter might be the perfect cat for you, please contact Animal Haven.