Ali Cat – a wobbly winner

Written by Tracey Hartley of Feral Cat Rescue Trust and Tracey Matthews

The tiny tabby kitten flopped and wobbled around in the trap, unable to keep her footing. What’s more, she growled, hissed and spat. The kitten’s strange behaviour led her rescuer to worry that there was something terribly wrong with her. But it turned out that, although she was different, she was neither sick nor unfriendly…   

Growly kitty

I’d trapped a cat at a roofing company’s yard in Durban and, when I took her to the vet to be spayed, they noticed that she was lactating. That meant that there had to be kittens somewhere at that yard. I asked the feeder who looks after the ferals in the area to be on the lookout and, although she spotted them, this wobbly little one escaped everyone’s notice. One day, I happened to be trapping in the area and decided to pop in just to check on them – and trapped this little one immediately.

When I saw what I’d caught, I was deeply worried that she had some awful illness and was suffering; I was trying to prepare myself to send her to kitty heaven. But, when I got her to the vet, they suggested we monitor her for a few days instead.

I hated seeing her sitting alone and confused in the vet cage. So, with no foster options, I took the wobbly little one home with me. She was a growly kitten who hissed and spat at everyone… so I was certainly very surprised when I awoke the next morning to a tame kitten that I could even carry around.

What to do with a drunken sailor

Now that I knew that she wasn’t unfriendly and that she didn’t in fact appear ill or in pain, we needed a diagnosis of what was actually going on. It turned out that she has Cerebella Hypoplasia (CH).*

Due to the CH, Ali’s motor skills are not so great: she plays and walks like a drunken sailor. She eats well, uses her litter tray just fine, and adapts very quickly to new situations. The first night I put her on the bed to sleep with me, I put a carrier next to the bed as a step so she could get up and down to her food and litter tray; in no time at all, she figured that out.

Other than having to live indoors, she doesn’t need special care and will have a normal life expectancy. Since most people don’t know about cats like her, many are needlessly put to sleep.

I’m so glad that we gave her a chance and thrilled that this sweet girl found the best home ever with Tracey Matthews and her family, who were specifically looking for a special-needs kitty just like Ali.

Tracey Matthews, Ali Cat’s new owner, shares…

Having an environmentally friendly garden with abundant birdlife, reptiles and amphibians, and a son with a desperate love for cats, I decided that perhaps the best solution would be to adopt a cat with special needs that would be unable to hunt successfully.

I was in no rush and just started keeping an eye open for possible adoptions. I came across a kitten born with a club foot, but it didn’t work out as I didn’t hear back from the person who had advertised it, so I just kept looking.

She’s The One

Friends and colleagues were aware of my search for the right kitty and, a few weeks later, my friend Alison tagged me on a video post that Tracey Hartley from Feral Cat Rescue had posted about a kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia. The video showed her chasing cat litter pellets around the floor and the poor little thing was falling all over the place, lacked co-ordination and looked like she’d had one too many glasses of wine.

I knew that this was the kitten for us. I immediately contacted Tracey to enquire if it still needed a home. It wasn’t long before we’d arranged a home check – and to meet the kitten.

We decided to call her Ali because she was found for us by my friend Alison, and because she was, after all, an alley cat. Ali settled down very quickly, and stood her ground with my poor, gentle dog who couldn’t understand why this brat didn’t want to be his friend, and kept hissing and clawing at his nose.

A very clever kitty

Wobbly cats, as they’re called, cannot jump very well or at all – jumping down normally results in them landing on their head and they certainly never land on all four feet. Knowing that this baby would have special needs, I immediately went out to buy steps for her so she could get up and down from the bed and couches. I was so worried about her falling and getting hurt that I bought a playpen so that if we went out or the front door was open, she could be put in there for her own safety.

Well, within 24 hours clever Ali had learnt how to scale the playpen walls and escape. I learnt very quickly that wobbly cats are extremely adept at climbing! She climbs all the furniture and certainly has no problems getting around. Where I have steps for her to climb down, I place pillows around the bottom because she still falls off the steps from time to time.

I think having two boys to play with has helped her tremendously – they’ve provided loads of occupational therapy through play and I’ve noticed significant improvements in her abilities as she’s grown. I don’t think she will by any means be a “normal” cat, but she’s happy and completely unaware of her condition.

Wobbly cat woes

She does have some wobbly cat issues. When she eats or concentrates really hard, her head bobs and so she peck-pecks at her food (although she does enjoy eating).

Ali only had her first wobbly cat-related injury last week. She was outside under a tree when a sunbird started chirping at her. Instead of running away, Ali became intrigued and tried standing up on her back legs to get a better look. Unfortunately, she lost her balance and fell, knocking her head and chipping the tip off her canine tooth.

But nothing really holds her back.

The great huntress

Ali is an indoor cat, but when we’re home to keep an eye on her, we take her out into the garden. She loves being outdoors and “hunts” our two Flemish Giant rabbits that roam our garden. Sometimes the tables turn and the bunnies chase her – it’s become a game. We also have an outdoor pen where we keep quail and guinea pigs; we often find her relaxing in the sun watching them. She loves to play in the tufty Mondo grass, and pounces and dives in it – I think it provides a nice soft play area for her.

When inside, Ali is often found sleeping on my bed and, when not sleeping, she can be seen following geckos around the house. She finds these creatures to be of such annoyance and meows at them in frustration that they are always out of reach.

Her absolute favourite pastime is chasing scrunched-up balls of paper around the house; this has led to a love of paper and once or twice the boys’ homework has not quite been “eaten by the dog”, but torn to shreds by the cat! She also likes to carry the balls of paper around in her mouth – and any other objects she finds. She often brings in leaves from the garden and places them by the door; I wonder if this is her form of gift giving and, if she could hunt, it would be dead animals, but since she can’t, she thinks leaves will have to suffice?

A special cat indeed

Ali is incredibly sensitive and can calm any member of the family who is upset. She often saves my children from a good telling-off by wrapping herself around my legs or tapping me with her paw, meowing at me, and then purring when I pick her up. The kids then laugh, thank the cat, tell me how much they love her and run off to play. All in a day’s work for Ali cat!

Ali is a true family pet and is affectionate to us all, but she does seem to love my eldest son the most and sits with him every night; if he sleeps over at a friend’s house she really gives him the cold shoulder when he returns.

This special little girl has wormed her way into our hearts without much effort and we really could not imagine our home without her!

Watch little Ali Cat playing on Feral Cat Rescue Trust’s Facebook page:

*Cerebellar hypoplasia (CH)

CH, also called “wobbly cat syndrome”, is an underdeveloped cerebellum, the coordination and fine motor skills centre of the brain. In kittens, it’s caused prenatally (i.e. in the womb), either due to some form of trauma, usually malnutrition, or exposure to the Feline Panleukopaenia Virus or vaccine. They are born with it but not all kittens in the same litter will have CH. Fortunately, although it cannot be cured, it isn’t painful and it doesn’t get worse; it is also not contagious. Cats learn to live with it and can live happy, healthy lives.