Inspiring 'Scooter' named Cat of the Year

| Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

Kudos to Scooter, a friendly therapy cat at HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital.

Scooter suffered an unknown, but devastating injury that left him paraplegic as a kitten, yet he cheerfully lives a productive life serving others as he rolls from room to room at the hospital and in two nursing homes in his custom-made kitty wheelcart.

For his service, the golden-eyed feline has been named the Cat of the Year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which will host Scooter and his owner Dr. Betsy Kennon, at an awards luncheon next month in New York City.

Scooter is a welcome presence at the hospital. Brittany Micholas, who is recovering from a stroke she had in August, struggles with a fuzzy memory, but she knows she once had two dogs and a cat that passed away.

When the Verona resident sees and pets Scooter, it's like reliving her relationship with her pets all over again.

“It was nice seeing him,” says Micholas, 25. “I love animals.”

Kennon, a veterinarian at VCA Northview Animal Hospital in Ross, rescued Scooter five years ago. The cat lives with the Natrona Heights family along with two other felines and four dogs. And despite his disability, Scooter is one of Kennon's toughest pets and the only mouser among the cats.

“I was overwhelmed,” says Kennon, 58, about the call she got from the society announcing Scooter's award. “Who knew a little kitty I found in Pittsburgh would make it to the Big Apple?”

Lindsay Sklar, director of special events for the New York-based ASPCA, says that an internal committee reviews the dozens of nominations received from the public for the awards, which include Cat of the Year, Dog of the Year and others. Committee members select winners that they find to be the most inspiring, she says.

“Scooter's story appeared numerous times in our search and seemed to be the clear choice for ASPCA Cat of the Year,” Sklar says. “Scooter not only overcomes his own ... injuries, but he's helping people facing similar obstacles to do the same. I think that's a really inspiring story by itself. That's why we found him to be a perfect fit.”

Scooter's journey began when Kennon was working as a veterinarian at Harts Run Veterinary Hospital in O'Hara. A client brought in the 6-month-old kitten, which his Husky dog had delivered to his owner in its mouth. Kennon and the dog owner thought the Husky had injured the kitten, but when Kennon examined him, she saw nothing: no bite marks, lacerations or bruises. The young cat was in shock and clearly had a debilitating spinal cord injury, but no one knows what happened; it may have been a bad fall, or perhaps a hit from a car, Kennon says.

The prognosis was bad, and the logical thing to do would have been to euthanize the kitten, but Kennon couldn't do it. She kept the young cat at a cage at the clinic for a few months. During that time, she got him a $300 K9 Cart, which fits over Scooter's body like a harness and straps in his lifeless back legs. Scooter got used to the cart almost immediately, and soon was cheerfully wheeling himself into exam rooms to greet and surprise patients and clients.

“It dawned on me that he was a real people kind of cat,” and possibly a good therapy cat, Kennon says.

She was hoping somebody with a big heart would adopt the kitty with special needs, but it wasn't meant to be. When she left her job at Harts Run, Scooter came with Kennon. Caring for his condition would be a challenge, but if anyone could do it, a vet could. Kennon diapers Scooter twice a day since he can't jump or use the litter box. Other than that, he is a perfectly normal cat, and Scooter doesn't seem aware that he has limitations.

“Animals don't think like we do: ‘Poor me, I can't do this, or I can't do that.' ” Kennon says. “They deal with the hand they've been dealt.”

Scooter has delighted many patients during his weekly visits at the rehab hospital and nursing homes. When patients see Scooter in his wheelcart, they think: “If he can do it, so can I,” Kennon says. She recalls one man who, after meeting Scooter, said: “I'm an idiot for ever feeling sorry for myself.” That moved Kennon to tears.

“It's extremely rewarding to see the good that he does,” Kennon says. “I've been very fortunate in my life, and it feels good to give back.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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