My ex-wife and I were walking through our town one evening in August of 2009 and we saw this feral kitten sitting on the front step of a building near the center of town. We’d seen her before and always wondered what her story was, as she was clearly different in some way from the other feral cats. We couldn’t quite figure out what was different though. When we ran across her again on Wednesday night we knew something was wrong because half her face was covered in dried blood. We decided we’d better try to catch her and see what was going on.
After several attempts, we did manage to catch her and we brought her home, with the intention of bringing her to our vet the next day. We isolated her from our other animals and started cleaning her up. The blood came off easily and seemed to just be from some scratches on her head. She wouldn’t open her eyes though — and so we assumed she had some sort of eye infection as well. Once she figured out that we were trying to help her, she was very sweet and docile.
The next day I took her to the vet and explained what we had found. After thoroughly examining her, Dr. Hansen told me that it wasn’t an eye infection. This little kitten didn’t have any eyes at all — she was completely blind and always would be. She is either missing the eyeballs completely or they are so atrophied that it will never be usable. Despite that, she was basically healthy and seemed to be around 10-12 weeks old. She had some parasites that we dealt with, but no other major health problems were detected, which was a blessing.
We named her Helen, as in Helen Keller.
Helen was quickly “adopted” by Chevy, our then 8-year-old tomcat. He allowed her to snuggle with her when she slept and groomed her from time to time. He also played with her. Over the next year we watched this amazing little cat grow into a very, small adult cat. As she grew up, she continued to amaze us. She continued to be a very affectionate cat who like to be around the other cats and around people. She was also smart, adventurous, and….AMAZING!
One of the things that I found amazing about her was she had taken to climbing up on the kitchen table so she could be near me. Note I said climb. She didn’t jump up on things like most cats do. Her lack of eyes keeps her from judging how high to jump. Instead, she climbed. Several times she had decided to climb even higher and had perched herself on the back of one of the kitchen chairs where she swings and climbs like an acrobat. It is very entertaining and very cute.
In August of 2010, my ex-wife moved to Texas and little Helen accompanied her on the trip. We were both worried about how she would do on the car ride and how she would adapt to her new home. She did marvelously — better than most humans would do with that big of a change. Sadly, after less than a year in her new home, she got sick and her life ended maddenlngly early. She died on May 7, 2011 of cardiac arrest brought on by severe anemia. It breaks my heart to know she’s gone. She was so tenacious. Out of all of my animals, I thought for sure she would live a long, happy life because she never let anything stop her. Rest well little “Squeakers”. You are greatly missed.
Her legacy is now a story I often tell when I’m giving presentations. When Helen was cruising around our house, she did most of her sensing with her whiskers and her feet. From time to time, if she stepped on something she had never touched before with her feet, she would immediately stop and pull back for a moment. Then, after a few moments of thinking, she would reach out with her right paw and tap at this new thing three times. After tapping on it, she would pull her paw back and wait to see if anything would happen. If nothing happened, then she’d reach out with her left paw and tap at it three times and again pull back and wait. If nothing happened, she’d wait a moment and then she’d leap on whatever this new thing was. Why do I tell this story? It is the lesson she taught us. It is ok to tap on new things to see what happens — but at some point you have to leap!