Tommy (right) at 8wksIf there’s such a thing as a Down’s Syndrome cat, then Tommy falls into that category.  (He’s the kitten on the right in the photo) Now almost 12, Tommy has always been different my other cats, or any cat I’ve ever known.

About 12 years ago, a woman brought this howling kitten to one of my adoption days at Petsmart and asked if I would take it.

She had found him in her office park and decided to keep him. However, in the days that followed, the kitten stayed under her bed 24×7, crying and howling until she couldn’t stand it anymore so she brought him to me. (Gee, thanks)

A little brown tabby about 7 wks old, the kitten would not stop screaming… I mean screaming.  Had the vet check him out, test and vaccinate him and for the rest of the day I endured his howling. 

When I got him home, I put him in my kitten foster room with another kitten about the same age and he immediately quieted down and began to play. 

But Tommy, as I decided to call him, was slow.  By 7wks, most kittens will use a litterbox almost instinctually.  You just have to show them where it is a couple of times at around 4-5wks and voila, as they say, they’ve got it.  Not Tommy.

It took a full two weeks to teach Tommy about the litter box.  First, what to do in it and second, where it was. 

I literally put him on a potty schedule as you would a puppy.  In the morning, first thing was go in the litterbox. Using a pencil, I would demonstrate how to scratch in the litter. Tommy would watch intently and then one day, he got the concept and imitated it.  I would do this morning, and then every couple of hours throughout the day – taking him to the box, demonstrating, and then he would go.

Now I lived in a small 2 bedroom/1bath apt at the time and the litterbox was in the bathroom at then end of the hall. To all my other cats and foster kittens – easy to find. To Tommy, a huge endeavor.

In the evenings, I would watch him playing in the living room with the other kittens. Everything would be fine, then suddenly, Tommy would stop and look around. He had to use the litterbox but couldn’t remember where it was.  So, he’d sit down, looking around frantically, and start to mew. I’d pick him up and carry him down the hall to the box. “Whew” and he would immediately do his businesses, then hop out, run down the hallway back to the livingroom and resume play.

Then one day ,when he was about 12 wks old, he got it and found the box all by himself. 

Then I decided to take him, along with the other kittens, to adoptions. The experience of being put in a cage totally freaked the little guy out and Tommy would start howling.

“MJ, I think one of your kittens is having a seizure,” one of my volunteers told me frantically.   When I looked through the glass, Tommy was in the cage on his back, legs straight in the air, convulsing.  I took him home.  Since it only happened when I took him to adoptions and at no other time, I decided it was fear-related and not a physical problem or related to disease.

All of his life, Tommy has never shown any aggression or made any attempt to dominate anyone, but what I find unusual is that none of my cats have ever given him a hard time.

Sometimes cats will try to bully each other, or intimidate each other like Buddy used to, but none of them have ever done that to Tommy.  It’s as if everyone of them understands he’s a “special” cat. Buddy would even lick him on the forehead – something he NEVER did for any other cat.  It was as if he was protecting Tom.

When you look at him, he’s physically different from your average cat as well.  Tommy has a flat, wide forehead and stout, thick body with a skinny tail and thinner, short legs. Even in the photo above, you can see his head is flatter and his ears set farther apart than his foster brother, Hobie, who was the same age.

He mostly walks with his tail down, he doesn’t play much, but is very affectionate.  In the mornings, he will sit on the bed and stare at me with his head cocked to one side, purring.

Mentally, he functions at a fairly normal level, but a lot escapes him and he’s easily upset. I always dread having to trim his nails or put his flea drops on because he gets so scared, and for no reason.  Things that don’t bother my other cats, completely freak him out.

So I don’t know if he was born slightly retarded or if he was injured as a kitten, but he is definitely different and all the other cats instinctively understand that.  Even foster kittens who have come after him will always treat him gently.

Tommy is a sweet boy. When he dies, I’d really like to donate his body to Tufts Veterinary school or somewhere where they could study his body and brain and perhaps learn from him. I’ve never known a cat like him and I”ve had them and have been rescuing and placing them for some 30 years.

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