We’re not blind; we just don’t have eyes

4th Dec, 2019

Cara (left) and Pepé (right)

Written by Herlina Burger

Professional photography by Kym Clayton Photography

To have a cat is to have food for your soul. As a child, growing up on a Free State farm, cats were always important members of our family. I only got my very own cat as a young adult. Fido was a beautiful long-haired, black-and-white domestic cat, but sadly she crossed the rainbow bridge prematurely when she was killed by a car. I was adamant that I’d only adopt a new cat once we’d moved to an area with quieter roads. When the day came, I got Tibbles, a beautiful British Shorthair. Tibbles was happily part of our home for many years until, one day, she disappeared, and I never saw her again. My sadness was so great that I decided to opt for cat things as opposed to real cats. My house quickly filled up with all sorts of cat ornaments, because everyone knew what to buy me for any special occasion. For many years, our home was a home without a real cat.

My children and I lived in a secure complex where animals were not allowed. One day I mentioned to Nina, my daughter, that our paving outside must be fixed, and her response was, “Let’s not fix the paving but move so that we can have animals again.” This was the start of my renewed relationship with cats. With great excitement we put our house on the market, found a new house, and ordered a Siamese and an Oriental cat, Ari and Thai. At the time, I didn’t know about animal shelters with so many beautiful cats who need loving homes.

Ari and Thai came home during December 2013, and once again our home was filled with cat love. Considering the loss of my first two cats, my main mission was, and still is, to prevent my cats from leaving the yard. I raised our vibracrete walls and installed nets to prevent them from jumping onto the walls.

The following year Nina was introduced to Lucky Lucy, where she volunteered over weekends. She loves dogs and helped walk the dogs, but a treat was always to visit the beautiful cat sanctuary. On one such Saturday, Nina phoned to say that there was a very tiny blind and frightened kitten that she’d like to foster until she could find a home. I very reluctantly agreed, because I was concerned that my fancy cats could get illnesses from the shelter, and I wondered how one cares for a blind cat. I even wondered why this kitten wasn’t put down, because how could a blind cat survive? Lucky Lucy named her Baccarat, a card game, due to the fact that she and her family were rescued from Grand West Casino. Her mom had feline herpes, which caused Cara, as we call her, to be born without eyes.

Lucky Lucy came to our home to establish the suitability of our environment, and soon after Cara arrived at her “foster” home. We very quickly realised that we were dealing with a foster-fail situation, because Cara was a very special little cat. We were in awe of how well she was managing, how quickly she mapped out the house, how normal her behaviour was, and how much love she had to give. We very quickly stopped noticing the little holes where her “marbles” should be and Cara became a “normal” cat in our home.

During 2016, my son moved back home and brought Gerald with him, a black-and-white domestic shorthair from the streets of Worcester. Gerald is the crafty one, and despite all my efforts to keep my cats in the yard, which were successful up to then, Gerald always, and still does, finds a way out. Ari and Thai soon followed him, but Cara, not being able to see, couldn’t follow. One day I stated that I only want blind cats going forward, as they’re not naughty. Someone clearly heard me, because during March 2019, I received a call from Nina to say that there was another blind kitten at Lucky Lucy!

Caring for animals is expensive, and one’s commitment to each and every one of them must be genuine and for life. With four cats, I wasn’t sure if I could afford another little one, and I wasn’t sure if I could split my cat love and dedication into five. I followed Astraea’s story on Facebook (Lucky Lucy’s Facebook followers named her “Astraea”, named after a Greek goddess of justice, innocence and purity, but we call her Pepé, because she looks like Warner Brothers’ Pepé le Pew). We quickly realised that our home is the perfect sanctuary for her. I went to meet her at Lucky Lucy and applied to adopt her.

Pepé was picked up in the veld by a lady riding her horse and was taken to Lucky Lucy. She had a severe eye infection, and it was anticipated that she’d be blind. Poor little Pepé had to endure so much: treatment for her eyes with three operations to remove both eyes, another operation to be spayed, and long-term treatment for ringworm. Patrys Niemand from Lucky Lucy took such good care of Pepé until June 2019, which is when she came home. Introductions to the other cats went smoothly, and soon Pepé became the fifth four-footed member of this family. She’s a bundle of energy and a great joy.

To highlight what it’s like having blind cats and how we had to adapt to take good care of them leaves me with few words. Nothing much has changed, except being mindful. Although Cara and Pepé are completely different in the way they cope, there are similarities. They usually move around confidently, but when they’re unsure of their surroundings, they take smaller, almost double steps. Their whiskers seem to be longer and their hearing is exceptionally sharp. Both cats are able to chase butterflies and jump up in the air in an attempt to catch a snack. Both climb on tables and jump on beds. Cara is reluctant to jump down if she can’t feel her way down, but Pepé just takes the plunge. Don’t, for one minute, think that you can sneak up to them. With their exceptional hearing and strong sense of smell, they immediately know when someone is close, and they’ll “look” at you as if they can see.

I made few changes in my home. I installed one or two ramps for Cara to climb down from higher places, I put nets in the big trees to prevent them from climbing high, and I covered the water feature with netting. I avoid plants with sharp leaves and objects with sharp edges that could hurt them should they accidentally bump into these (which seldom happens). They should never be able to leave the yard, but, as mentioned, this is my permanent mission. I give love and play with them by talking and touch, and they have noisy toys. When they get food or snacks, I tap where I put it down. If I want to “show” or teach them something, I lead them along with “cookies” and tapping. They learn so quickly and map out their surroundings so swiftly that none of these seem an effort. I’ve had guests who don’t notice that my cats are blind until they look closely or I tell them. And yes, we can move the furniture around, and yes, they do play outside on their own. Cara and Pepé aren’t blind; they just don’t have eyes.

My home is once again filled with cat love and my soul is fed. I’m such a privileged “crazy cat lady”.

I dedicate this story to Patrys Niemand from Lucky Lucy, who’s a true blessing to cats in need. I’d also like to encourage people to support Lucky Lucy by either adopting animals from them or by donating money or necessities as and when possible. Rescue animals are such grateful animals, and they fill one’s life with indescribable love.