Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in August 2015.
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Christy, my first sealpoint Siamese, was hit by a car when she was about 1 year old. She survived the accident, but her left front paw didn’t. The nerve endings were dead, and the veterinarian had to amputate that paw before gangrene set in.
The dainty little Siamese adapted beautifully to life on 3 legs. She set up shop on the large, enclosed back porch and moved about as gracefully as a ballerina. In fact, she’d start limping only when one of her former outdoor colleagues came in for a visit. As soon as the other cat went back outside, the limp would mysteriously vanish.
Sometimes when I took her outside, she’d even climb trees. She couldn’t hold on for long, but that didn’t stop her from trying.
A High Bounce-Back Rate
Cats are incredibly resilient. “Like people, cats have varying levels of this ability,” observes writer Pamela Merritt. “We might call it landing on our feet.”
Anyone who has ever worked the animal rescue beat can testify to this. Abused cats, neglected cats, shell-shocked cats — with care and patience, they not only make their way through it but also flourish.
Cats “can never really forget a panicked past, but they can learn to put it in the past,” says Merritt, who has rescued her share of cats. “If we can make our home a comfortable and known refuge, our cat may still be prone to anxiety at the vet but will make a delightful companion anyway.”
Watch this fiercely amazing Bengal cat run, jump and play after a car accident took her right front leg:
Cats are emotionally resilient in other ways, too. In a fascinating article about cats and grief, Dr. Arnold Plotnick, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP, notes how “if given time to grieve, they will return to some of their old rituals, develop new rituals and once again regain the contentment they previously enjoyed.”
Triumph Over Near-Tragedy
Then there are the more dramatic stories about cats who somehow survived despite the medical odds being stacked against them:
- Russell, a red tabby who sustained major injuries in a house fire. He has become a sort of wounded healer, visiting and cuddling with all the other injured animals at the Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care in Raleigh, North Carolina.“It is utterly clear that he does something very special for everyone who gets to know him,” one of the vet techs says. “He helps give them some hope, him being such a little cat of perseverance.”
- Scamper, a tired, aging cat who lost about a third of his tail to a car engine. The accident “woke him up, and he spent the next few years enjoying the hell out of living,” says Roberta Echelson.
- Emerson, a tiger cat who arrived at Houlton Humane Society in Maine with a broken neck and ribs, spinal cord damage and “what looked like chemical burns on his feet,” according to director Heather Miller (the woman who brought him in admitted to snapping the cat’s neck because she found him annoying). Paralyzed from the waist down, Emerson now lives with Miller and uses a cat wheelchair to get around. He has a permanent tilt to his head and can’t drink on his own. Despite that, Emerson is a happy cat. “Some have asked, ‘Why not put him down?’” Miller remarks. “We can honestly say he is not ready. He loves life the way it is. We love him, and he is a blessing to all that meet him.”
Cat Life After Trauma
Monika Malik, a self-described “catographer,” has created a series of moving — and ultimately inspiring — photos called I Am Still a Cat.
All the felines caught on film have something that the world in general would consider “wrong” with them: missing eyes, legs or tails, while others are deaf and have leukemia. But they’re all seen playing with toys, investigating boxes and acting just like other cats.
“I wish to change the way people think about disabled cats,” says Malik, adding that she wishes people would treat disabled cats as “normal. Not special, not worse but simply normal. Inability is a state of mind. They don’t feel worse, so why would we treat them as such?”
The Truth in the Cliché
In real life, cats don’t have 9 lives and don’t always land on their feet.
But they are fighters and survivors, “intrepid explorers and acrobats,” says writer Justine Hankins. “According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, a cat is said to have 9 lives because it is ‘more tenacious of life than many animals.’ … The cat’s resilience still inspires fascination, which is why the myth of the cat’s 9 lives has endured for so long.”