Big new life for a blue-eyed kitten
At just a week old, Llama was already in a precarious position. The tiny, white ball of fur didn’t have his eyes open yet, and he could barely even squirm around on his belly when he was brought into a shelter in Florida with a wound at the base of his tail. The cause of the injury — and the extent of the damage — were unknown, but it was clear this orphaned kitten needed a whole lot of TLC.
Another arrival at a facility already full of homeless felines, Llama went straight into foster care after a vet cleaned the wound. He needed bottle feeding every couple of hours, around the clock. And at such a young age, every moment was critical. His foster person, Sandy Dictor, kept a close eye on him at all times, and wherever she went, Llama went, too. So it didn’t take her long to realize her fluffy charge wasn’t developing quite as he should.
Like all kittens his age, Llama needed help going to the bathroom. While it can be a tricky process, Sandy noticed it was extra difficult with him — and even as he grew, he continued to need assistance. When he started crawling, and then walking, it was with an odd, stiff gait. And all the while, his tail hung loose and limp behind him.
A return trip to the vet’s office revealed that Llama’s tail was fractured (which would have been very difficult for the shelter staff to detect in a simple admissions examination, at his age, without more elaborate equipment), and veterinarians suspected he had spinal nerve damage leading to incontinence. They gave him pain medication and prescribed antibiotics. However, there came a point when they felt they could do nothing else to help the kitten.
But that didn’t mean Llama was out of options. He could get the help he needed at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and soon he would make the long journey there from Florida — with one stop along the way.
A second chance
Wendy Kaplan, Best Friends philanthropy adviser, often fosters pets — typically neonatal kittens — for the Florida shelter Llama came from. “I have a soft spot for puppies and kittens who can’t walk. I’ve fostered a lot of them,” Wendy explains. “The incontinent part is not something I’ve ever worked with.” She had upcoming plans to fly out to the Sanctuary, so she took over fostering the tiny kitten to combine their trip.
The now one-month-old Llama, who was starting to show his personality, instantly charmed Wendy. He was enthralled by the adult cats in the house and rather unimpressed by the dogs. But no matter whom he was with, he wanted to be the center of attention. Llama was all about scratches and snuggles, playing and exploring. He didn’t care one bit that his walk was a little different; he was busy looking for the next fun thing to do.
When it came to Llama’s litter box needs, Wendy says she initially tried diapers. “You see that on social media,” she laughs, remembering the struggle of trying to wrangle Llama. “But it is not an easy task.” Luckily, a vet tech who lived nearby volunteered to help each day — carefully squeezing his bladder and bowels to help him go to the bathroom. So twice a day, every day, Wendy loaded Llama into his carrier and drove him over.
Not long after she’d brought him home, Wendy took Llama to a neurologist for a thorough examination into his condition. He confirmed that Llama’s tail was broken to a degree that meant the resulting nerve damage was irreversible. Llama would likely be incontinent for the rest of his life. But there was still hope that the damage to his sciatic nerve — which caused paralysis of his knees and therefore his special gait — might improve with time.
The neurologist’s report and x-rays would help the veterinary team at Best Friends determine what kind of care Llama would need when he arrived at the Sanctuary. There, nestled in the southern Utah canyon, was a building specially designed with incontinent cats in mind, along with caregivers well-versed in taking care of them.
A new home-between-homes
Wendy reported each step of Llama’s trip, from Florida to the Sanctuary in southern Utah, back to his fans from the shelter. His first foster person, as well as his previous caregivers and volunteers, were cheering him on the whole way, excited to see Llama moving on to the next exciting chapter of his life. “I took a video when I was walking into the building with him, explaining this is what a house is like at Best Friends,” Wendy says. “So he’s quite a celebrity. He is a total ham about it.”
Of course, Llama’s undeniable kitten charisma immediately caught hold of each new person he met from the moment he arrived. Caregivers and volunteers fawned over him and made sure he was never short of a good wand toy to chase. Everyone was so taken by Llama that Wendy jokes she became known as “the person who brought him.”
The cats who would become Llama’s roommates, however, weren’t quite sure what to make of him. There were the usual hisses of uncertainty when Llama was set loose to explore, but he was undeterred in his adventures. Then, his first feline friend sneaked up on him (literally).
“She actually jumped him from behind, and they rolled all over the floor,” recalls Mike Bzdewka, one of Llama’s caregivers. “He was a little bit startled at first.” Since Llama hadn’t had any siblings to play with, he’d not had that kind of contact with another cat. But as soon as he figured out what was happening, it was game on.
With all his playing and darting around the building, Llama grew bigger, stronger and faster every day. At three months old now, he’s a master climber, scaling people’s pant legs to get closer to their hands for petting and playing. He’s made a few more playmates, as well, and plenty of new fans. “People are hysterical when he runs,” Mike says. “You throw a ball, and he just goes flying after it.”
The next step for Llama is seeing a specialist for surgery on his tail. And once he’s recovered and ready, the adoptions team will work on matching him with a new family. With a personality like Llama’s, it shouldn’t take long.
“If you’re a cat person,” says Wendy, “you’re gonna fall in love with him.”
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