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Disabled Valley cats find loving homes

| Monday, March 2, 2009

Missing eyes and legs aren't stopping cats from getting on with their many lives -- or local pet lovers from adopting them.

Three animal shelters in the Alle-Kiski Valley have recently seen a number of disabled cats come through their doors, then leave before others with no apparent disability. All three shelters limit their intake because they don't euthanize animals, and all are at capacity.

Animal Protectors of the Allegheny Valley in New Kensington houses one cat missing a leg and another with asthma among its resident population.

Shirley Cindric of Lower Burrell serves as a foster mother to five additional disabled cats from Animal Protectors. Two are missing a leg, one has no teeth, another lost an eye and the fifth has no breastbone. This is in addition to the five cats Cindric's family keeps as permanent pets.

"People are so surprised that we haven't put these pets down," she said. "But some of them are the most affectionate animals I have ever seen. It would surprise people."

The shelter pays for the medical costs for the five foster cats. Pets often lose eyes to untreated infections and legs to limb fractures that don't heal properly, again contracting infection. Most cats lose limbs after breaking them in falls, animal traps or car accidents. Some suffer frostbite.

Cindric says the pets are far more resilient than humans can be when losing a limb. The three-legged cats, she says, have regained their balance and have no major problems navigating stairs.

"It's amazing, animals will accept things so well and adjust so well," she said. "People write books about mourning a missing leg, but cats just get on with their lives."

Nevertheless, a few situations can still be disorienting. One of Cindric's three-legged cats has not realized his leg is gone when he wants to scratch his neck.

"It's more cute than sad," she said. "He'll forget he doesn't have the leg, and his stump will wiggle like he's trying to scratch. I'll lend him a hand and scratch him."

Bethann Galbraith, the kennel operator at Ford City's Orphans of the Storm, said Petsmart at Pittsburgh Mills has helped give disabled cats exposure.

"People can see the cats interact and show off that they aren't that different," she said, echoing Cindric's comments. "They don't seem to give their disabilities a second thought, once they figure out how to walk, run and play.

"They purr just as loudly as any other cat."

She said those cats have been adopted quickly, while other cats with all of their limbs remain at the shelter for years.

Pet lovers either feel sorry for the animals -- or some kind of connection.

Valerie Schobel, shelter director for Animal Connection in Avonmore, recounts a six-year-old story that still entertains and heartens her.

A woman, she said, came to the shelter in search of a three-legged cat. Her family already had a cat with three legs and they wanted a companion for it.

"She told me they wanted her cats to 'be on the same footing,'" she said.

That pun did more than simply make Schobel laugh.

"It showed me that there were people out there who had a true soft spot for animals in need, that they weren't being rejected because of an accident or illness that went untreated."

Animal Connection has accepted two cats with broken legs in the past seven months, Schobel said. One responded to surgery and has kept all of its legs, but another lost a leg to amputation -- at a cost of $1,800 to the shelter.

"If you didn't tell someone Tarzan had broken his leg, they couldn't tell," she said. "And even though Conner ended up losing his leg, he still plays with the other cats like nothing ever happened.

"I don't think it matters to him."

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