Written by Megan Bayne
Photography by Kim Clayton Photography
It had been a tough and exhausting day at work, and by 18h00 I was already in my pyjamas and snuggled up on the couch with my rescue dog, Chester.
I foster neonatals – fragile little kittens from a few hours old to a few days; I often get those who need extra care, TLC and someone with knowledge and veterinary experience in ensuring they survive. That Wednesday night, the 23rd of January 2019, I’d been “foster free” for about a month and was settling back into a home without a tiny feline needing a human mom.
And then I received a message about a very special kitten…
A very special kitten
My friend Antoinette, who fosters and rehomes bunnies, contacted me asking if I could take in a kitten with a Down’s Syndrome-like appearance that had been taken in by the Cape Town Feral Cat Project.
I was hesitant; Feral Cat Project is a very small, volunteer-run organisation and couldn’t afford to cover his vet bills, so it would be my responsibility. They focus on ensuring that feral cats are sterilised and vetted to control the cat population. Because cats can have up to four litters a year, they’re focused on reducing breeding, spreading of the dreaded FIV and FELV viruses and unwanted kittens, so their work is crucial.
Small organisations like this simply don’t have the resources needed to care for a special needs kitten and, although they wanted to help him, they were forced to consider putting him to sleep. He was scheduled for the next day – Thursday the 24th of January – when his cat mom went in to be sterilised.
It’s a sad reality that kittens like him, who go into struggling shelters that don’t have funds or staff or capacity to care for such special cases, have to be euthanised (put to sleep). This is as much of a Pro-Quality of Life situation as it is a Pro-Life situation, or even a funding issue. Some kittens adjust well to these deformities while others don’t and they suffer; in the latter case, we have to make a tough and heart-breaking decision.
I didn’t know what to expect
Eventually, I said that I would take him. I didn’t really know what to expect when he arrived, but I scrambled to get his area and playpen sterilised and set up for him. I grabbed the “kitten reserve” I always have in case of emergency (soft tinned foods, formula, training pads, heating pads and blankets) and frantically set up for him.
Antoinette pulled up in her car with this teeny little kitten wrapped up in a white towel. He needed to be kept warm – neonatal kittens cannot regulate their own body temperatures until about four to five weeks of age.
I ushered her in, unwrapped the blanket, and I got my first look at this tiny fluffy kitten that I was to care for.
Both his front legs were deformed and turning inwards at a 90-degree angle where one would assume that the humerus and radius bones meet.
When I weighed him, as I do with all fosters, identified gender and checked over his body, I noticed a kink in his tail, right at the base. His left hind leg also appeared to be oddly shaped. He weighed a mere 310g, and I placed him at four weeks and two days old.
I proceeded to feed him and, noticing that he already wanted to chew, I blended up a slurry – a mix of soft tinned food and formula. I also noticed that he didn’t have evident Down’s Syndrome, although he did have several physical abnormalities.
Over the next 24 hours I could see that he was incredibly weak, but I continued to feed him slurry even if he didn’t want it.
Day two was when he “realised” he was hungry and began yelling at me for food. I was never happier to hear a soft, hoarse little meow as I was on that day. His siblings most likely denied him access to his cat mom for most of those first few weeks, and with him being significantly smaller than them and slower, he most likely didn’t get as much milk to grow as the others.
A cat-savvy vet
I scheduled a vet appointment for Friday, the 25th of January, with my own cat’s vet. She’s quite cat-savvy and works excellently with my own four special needs kitties. I knew she’d give us a thorough guideline and plan going forward.
She also works with an incredible vet who’s been in the industry for over 40 years and has seen many, many, many welfare cases that are rare and unique.
Off we went to the vet. I was quite stressed for the visit, not being sure what would be decided, but I knew it would only be in the best interest of this little soul I was guarding and protecting.
The visit went well; the little guy had gained 20g in two days and weighed in at 330g. We established that there was an old break in his tail, along with the diagnosis of Radial Hypoplasia – the underdevelopment of the radius bones in the leg. This causes bone deformities as well as stunted leg growth and thus causes them to not walk properly.
The vet and I decided to wait another four weeks and have a follow-up visit and x-ray him then. His growth plates were not adequately developed at this stage, and an x-ray would show a lot of “empty” spaces. We therefore opted to continue with what I was already doing – rehabilitation, feeding and making sure he developed motor skills. We dewormed him before we left.
Harvey the warrior
So, after the relatively positive vet visit, we decided to think up a name for him. “We” being me and one of my closest friends, Emma Wagener, who’ll be adopting this special boy.
We pitched names and went back and forth for a day before settling on Harvey. I loved this name because of the meaning and what it implied: “For he is a valiant and battle-worthy warrior”. And, so, we named him Harvey.
Over the few weeks, Harvey has grown in leaps and bounds – literally! He’s learned to walk, he jumps and plays with toys and my fingers, and he’s trying to climb things. He’s learned to use the “loo” on his own and, although he’s become such an independent boy, he loves being with a human. He’s incredibly playful and vibrant overall.
I call him my sling baby. I made an impromptu sling out of a scarf and he absolutely LOVES being toted around in this contraption. He often just lies in it and stares at my face, or falls asleep in it when he’s against my chest.
Funding for Harvey
I don’t know what the future will hold for Harvey, my sling baby, but I know that he’ll be given the absolute best life possible. His soon-to-be mom has another rescue cat with Radial Hypoplasia, so Harvey will have a comrade in his life journey.
With Harvey being a private case, we need to constantly raise funds to cover his veterinary treatment (specialist visits included), x-rays, costs of upkeep, and, when he’s a little older, his vaccinations, sterilisation and microchipping.
Harvey has a Back-A-Buddy page where our goal is to raise R5000 to cover as much of the veterinary care as we can. With the help of donors, I currently run raffles to raise funds. We’re also incredibly blessed to have received a handful of monetary donations and three wonderful donations of food, blankets, toys and training pads. We only need to raise another R1400 to reach Harvey’s goal amount.
Without public support, Harvey wouldn’t be able to get the care that he’s receiving so he can grow into the healthy, happy cat he’s meant to be.
I must be honest: he’s been one of my most special foster cases in the last few years. I got started in rescue almost five years ago, and it’s been the most heart-breaking but rewarding journey of my life.
I can’t have human kids, so I throw my entire heart and soul into rescues and the animal welfare system. Harvey is truly an embodiment of strength, determination and endless love. He’s such an incredible little cat and he beats the odds every single day.
I couldn’t choose a better future and life for him than with his new mom, Emma, and her partner, Pete. They’re two of the kindest, softest and loveliest people I know. They have four rescue animals – two dogs and two cats. Three of the four are special needs.
I knew the moment I took Harvey in that Emma would adopt him. You see, during 2018 she told me she’d love to adopt another cat who NEEDED them. Another cat like their Victoria, who also has Radial Hypoplasia. When I saw Harvey, I knew I had to share it with Emma.
Harvey still has quite a journey ahead of him, but we’ll make sure to give him the very best that we possibly can.
One month later
Just under one month after he arrived, Harvey had a follow-up vet visit on the 21st of February 2019. We had him tested for FIV and FELV, for which he tested negative and for which we’re overjoyed!
On further investigative testing, we discovered that he’s sight impaired, but to what extent we’re not sure. He’ll be back at the vet at the end of March for another booster vaccination, an x-ray and more testing on his eyes. Currently he reacts to light and really BIG, BIG, BIG movements, but very little otherwise, so it could be either an issue with his brain or just his eyes.
He’s gained weight well – 410 grams! – but at 720g at almost 9 weeks old, he’s still too little for x-rays. We’ll try again when he’s older at his next appointment at the end of March.
Overall, Harvey is doing incredibly well. Although slower to hit his milestones, he does hit them eventually. I’m so incredibly proud of this little angel. He’s truly an amazing inspiration to us all and has touched so many hearts of those who’ve heard his story.
Harvey’s story can be followed on our Instagram @kittenxmama or on Facebook. His BackABuddy link for online donations is https://www.backabuddy.co.za/saving-little-harvey and the raffles are also available through social media.
MEANT TO BE MINE
By Emma Wagener, Harvey’s soon-to-be mom
There are moments in life where there are no choices or decisions really. Sometimes a special little soul touches yours.
The moment Megan sent me a FOUR-second video of Harvey being held in the air by his rescuers, I knew. This tiny, immensely small little baby struck something in me in those four seconds: I didn’t know his story yet, but I immediately said, “He’s mine!”
Special needs animals are so much more
I have four of my own fur kids, one of which is my little kitty Victoria, who has radial hypoplasia in one of her front legs. She’s brought so much joy to my life and never seems to mind her disability. She can’t do everything a regular cat can, but that’s okay – she doesn’t really care.
She lies around in the garden all day, soaking up life, inspecting the succulents and chasing butterflies. She just loves to be outside doing busy “cat stuff”. Can you imagine such a sweet life?
Special needs animals are no “less” than the rest. Quite the opposite; they are more – so much more. Disabilities are not the same for animals; they adjust so well and thrive despite the odds being against them. In the face of hardship, they grow strong and resilient, and develop the most incredible character. With a little bit of assistance from their human “slaves”, they live full and happy lives.
But more than this, they bring so much joy to our lives.
So much life to live
Harvey has proven all of this to me once again. In the time since he’s been with Megan I’ve watched him grow into the sassiest little guy who knows exactly what he wants and how to go for it. He’s got so much life to live.
I know Victoria will be extremely happy to have a little brother who is like her. I can’t wait to see them play! I can’t wait to spend many years with this precious little boy. I’ll treasure every single moment he is with us, our special boy.
Harvey has received some lovely donations and has touched the heart of a few special people.
We have so much to be thankful for and so many to thank. A HUGE thank you goes to the following donors:
- All the amazing ladies and gents who’ve donated money to Harvey’s cause, from R20 to R500.
- To Mish Beauty Bar and Michelle Hodge for the beauty vouchers worth R700 for his raffle to raise more funds.
- Pack Leader and Acana Orijen South Africa for the food and support.
- The lovely supporters from the BackABuddy page as well.
An important note
As much support as we get and as much kindness as we experience, Harvey’s struggles would have easily been prevented through spaying his mom, and we’re so happy that our friends at Feral Cat Project Cape Town did just that. The cycle has ended for his mom and now we aim to give him the best life possible.
A little PS note
Emma and I are in the process of starting and registering a small NPO that will assist shelters with their overflow of neonates, special needs kittens, and mother cats with babies.
We aim to have our “kitten nursery” up and running by the end of December 2019 and will have a BackABuddy page live soon to assist with fundraising.
Guess the name of this little nursery? Harvey’s Haven – where disabilities don’t disable love.