My blind cat: living with Spencer
I walked into the post-anesthetic recovery room at the William H. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital where I worked. It was late in the day and I was to begin my afternoon shift taking care of dogs and cats as they woke from their procedures.
As I passed through the door, to my right I saw him. He sat huddled in a ball, a small black and white tuxedo cat with his eyelids sewn shut. He seemed to notice I was looking at him as I gasped at the cuteness before me.
"What is THIS"? I asked the woman I worked with.
"A stray" she replied.
I glanced at his record. A shelter cat relinquished because he "caused an allergy", this 5 month old kitten was called "Rover". He had come to the hospital for a neuter and to have his eyes removed, what is called a 'bilateral enucleation'. He was set to return to the shelter the following day. Studying the medications that he was given to induce and maintain anesthesia, I decided it was safe to open the cage door. I picked him up and held him close, deciding right then and there he would not be going back to the shelter. He was coming home with me.
Images of my little blind boy
Spencer was born with two ocular conditions that rendered him blind. One is called 'micro-ophthalmia' or, tiny eyes. His eyeballs were so small and they never fully matured to give him sight. Secondly, he had 'eyelid agenesis', that is, his eyelids never grew. His tiny little eyeballs were like dried up raisins in his head. He was born blind and never knew the difference. The Ophthalmologists at UC Davis decided it was best to remove the useless things.
Spencer was slowly introduced to my other three cats. It was my first time owning a blind cat, and I was curious as to how he would get along; with my other cats as well as the environment he would live in. They watched him from afar as he rested in his enclosure. They attempted eye contact with him, and seemed visibly upset when he wouldn't return their gazes.
I shouldn't have worried. Spencer's other senses developed unlike anything I could imagine. He quickly learned the layout of the house, eventually running down the halls and jumping onto furniture like a seasoned pro. Spencer had quite an acute sense of hearing; he began hunting and eventually catching and eating flies and moths which sought refuge from the cold breezes outside my country home.
I watched Spencer grow from a small kitten to a healthy adult cat. He would often sit on a chair near the kitchen and orient his senses towards me as I cooked and cleaned. I still speak of him "watching" me, even though I know it's impossible. His ears act like radars, his nose is a finely tuned machine. He could smell a slice of turkey in the next room, and often had to be escorted out of the kitchen, lest his curiosity cause him to be stepped on, or worse.
I have often been asked what it is like having a blind cat. Does he knead soft things? Does he play? How does he find his way to the litter box?
It's usually the same answer, time and time again. Spencer has been one of the biggest joys in my life; he is smarter than the average cat and learns things very quickly. It takes him two days to learn a new house; he automatically knows where the food is located, and he is an accomplished clown, often chasing my sighted cats around the house or 'hiding' in plain view. He loves his scratching post. He never misses his litter box (even though it is cleaned daily). He is unequivocally the bravest cat I have ever known: he has no reason to fear anything, thus his safety is of utmost importance to me. As well, his curiosity can get the best of him and his environment must be maintained for his sake.
There have been owners of pets that consider putting their pets down because the animal may become blind for one reason or another. I wish I could show them just what a blind animal can be: healthy, happy, playful, a joy to care for, and fun to be around.
Blindness is never a good reason to euthanize an otherwise healthy pet.
Spencer would agree!