Not much slows down Earl the cat. He runs after his siblings, plays fetch with his owners and even goes on adventures, such as camping — all of this even though his rear legs are paralyzed. With the help of a new wheelchair, this speedy feline is bound to be even faster.
Owner Keina Romanelli of Macomb, Michigan, first fostered the cute black-and-white kitten shortly after he was found at 5 weeks old, chasing after his fellow stray littermates in neighboring Warren. It wasn’t long before she decided she had to keep him. While that technically makes her a “foster failure,” she has a different name preference.
“I like to call myself his ‘permanent foster mom!’” she told us. “I’m very picky about how he is cared for, and it would kill me if I found out he wasn’t taken care of like he should be. So, I knew I had to keep him. I do things a certain way and in my eyes no one else will do it like me — I know, typical mom!”
That special care for the now 1-year-old Earl includes things like monitoring where he goes; he can get trapped places he can get to but not get out of, such as the bottom of staircases. He also wears a diaper that needs changing several times a day, because he’s unable to lift his back end to use a litter box. And because his legs stick straight out like a frog, he needs a bit of extra attention when he wants to get comfy.
Some other people were interested in making Earl comfortable: the engineers at C3 Ventures in Flint. They wanted to help a cat in need, and the rescue group Romanelli worked with put her in touch with them.
“It was great!” she said of the experience. “The first day they met Earl, all of them fell in love with him. Everyone from C3 Ventures was very laid back and easy to work with. They wanted to make sure everything was perfect for him.”
They got to work crafting a wheelchair using a 3D printer and customized the device to Earl’s specific needs. After an adjustment period, in which Romanelli said Earl “was unsure what was going on,” the adaptable kitty now cruises around his home at lightning speed. And that’s only after his first week with the chair.
Earl might go farther, faster on these wheels but he’s already making big strides in the area of adoption awareness for special-needs cats, by keeping a high profile — on places like his Facebook page — and giving when he can. Last summer, for example, Earl won a photo contest with Black+Decker appliances and became the “spokespet” for its new pet vacuum. He appeared on the box and donated winnings to feed homeless cats.
When asked what she’d tell other people about adopting special-needs pets, Romanelli recounted her own experience, and the fulfilling feeling she had after welcoming Earl into her life.
“When I first saw Earl I knew he needed me and I had to help, but in the back of my mind I was asking myself, ‘What are you going to do with a paralyzed kitten!?’” Romanelli told us. “I’ve had many pets in my life, and I will say I’ve never had a connection like the one I have with Earl.”
The siblings he keeps up with around the house are Bear, a male Yorkiepoo, and Rima, a very particular cat. She was also rescued, after Romanelli picked her up when “someone threw her out a car window in front of me doing 70 on an expressway,” so it’s no wonder she’s hesitant around new faces.
“I feel like both Bear and Rima knew he was special,” Romanelli said, “because Rima hates other cats and from the start she was very curious about him.”
They might feel the same way about Earl as Romanelli does, when she says: “Earl is an amazing cat, and I can’t imagine my life without him.”
By: Anastasia Thrift