May 3rd is “National Specially-Abled Pets Day,” and as all of the staff and many of our clients know: my cat Hanzo is blind. I adopted him shortly after moving to California for school; he was picked out by my friend Aaron, who thought he was the cutest cat of the bunch. Hanzo was sitting in a cage, alone, outside of the local pet store. I asked one of the volunteers what his story was, as the cage tag reading “Buster” did not seem to fit this young cat’s handsome face and quiet demeanor.
She told me this sleek, black kitty was about five or six months old and had been with the rescue since he was born. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. He had been adopted, and returned, three times total. All of the previous families had brought him back, citing he was not at all “cat-like.”
I thought that was pretty odd, considering he appeared to be a completely normal cat, and he seemed really sweet. (Full disclosure: at this time I never considered myself to be a cat person, but I couldn’t have a dog with my current living situation.) So, paperwork filled out and supplies conveniently purchased at the pet store, I had just adopted a cat I wasn’t really intending to get that day, but he spoke to me and I pretty much instantly fell in love with him as soon as my friend pointed him out.
So, I brought him home and there was only a short debate regarding his new name: no way was this handsome boy going to remain a “Buster!” It was between Rufio (the leader of the Lost Boys in the film Hook) or Hanzo (the master sword smith from the Kill Bill movie franchise). If you can’t tell, I’m a bit of a movie geek. We pulled the name out of a hat, and my Hanzo was named. It was a simple first day.
As time went on, however, all of us started to notice that what the adoption volunteer said was true. Hanzo was NOT at all cat-like. He refused to jump on anything but low furniture and was pretty tentative moving through the apartment. It wasn’t super obvious at first and it concerned me enough to mention it at his check-up. The veterinarian I was working with at the time did an eye exam and gave me a tentative diagnosis of progressive retinal atrophy. The onset of blindness is early in the cat’s life and usually progresses to complete blindness between three to five years of age. It is not painful and there is no current treatment available.
So, “weird-acting cat mystery” solved! Sure, he moves around differently than other cats, but once he gets his bearings in a space he is good to go. There is also an added bonus of him absolutely LOVING car rides and I assume it is because he can’t see out the window. This was convenient as Hanzo has traveled cross-country with me several times and is an excellent car companion. I also trained him early on a leash harness so that I could walk him at rest stops. Let me just say: you think kids love dogs? Well, try walking a cat around outside and see them absolutely delight in his presence! He was his own little roadtripping cat celebrity on those drives.
Hanzo turns 10 in two days and let me just say it has been an amazing journey to take with him. Health-wise he is not the perfect cat and aside from his blindness he is also affected by irritable bowel disorder. He is on a prescription diet, occasionally has to take prednisone, has unleashed explosive diarrhea on to me on at least one occasion, etc. But, would I change any of that? No. He is my baby kitty. Sure, he’s whiny when he wants to know where you are (almost like a constant game of Marco Polo but with a cat instead of a swimming pool) and he has a habit of getting lost on his way to the litter box. But he is my little buddy, for better or for worse. I’ve stuck by him through all of his issues because he was there for me during many difficult times in my life, too.
When I adopted him I vowed not to be like those other people that returned him for not being a “real cat.” He is a real cat and more: family member, friend, and an occasionally annoying fuzz-ball and he has taught me a lot about blind pets. So much so, Dr. Miller sends me in to talk to cat owners with recently diagnosed blind kitties to give advice and encouragement. Sure, the diagnosis can sound scary at first, but if they aren’t in pain they adjust swimmingly. We should always look to Specially-Abled pets as a source of inspiration, from the blind cat to the dog with three legs. Do you see them give up or mourn their “disability?” No, they approach life with the same vigor and gusto they always have- the only difference is they may need some extra human help and love along the way.
Sarah M. has been with the Lifetime Pet Centers for over 12 years and is our current practice manager.