Faces of No-Kill: Head injury can’t stop this kitten

Sébastien in a wheelchair with Theophiel the cat in his lap and another cat stretching up to them
Found stumbling and disoriented, Theophiel’s story had a scary start, but things turned around when he landed at Best Friends. Now, he’s living the dream.
By Sarah Thornton

Theophiel is a kitten of comfort. When he’s not cuddling up to his family and rolling over to make sure their hands can reach every inch of his cotton-soft fur, he’s snuggling stuffed animals or lounging in a sunbeam. He’s constantly a-rumble like his default setting is “purr,” and it takes a lot to interrupt his little motor. Even if he’s just spacing out, blue eyes peering into the middle distance, he’s the picture of easy contentment. But his story didn’t start out that way.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

Magazine covers

Full of inspiration and positivity, Best Friends magazine is full of uplifting tales, gorgeous photos and helpful advice.
When you become a member of Best Friends Animal Society by making a donation of $25 or more to the animals, you’ll receive Best Friends magazine for a year. Inside, you’ll read about what Best Friends is doing to save the lives of homeless pets nationwide. 

It started like a scene out of a nightmare: a small, scraggly white kitten stumbling around in a horse corral, disoriented and barely able to walk. Even with his fur caked in dirt, the wound in the middle of his forehead stood out like a sore thumb, angry and red. Something was very, very wrong. It took only a moment for the person who’d discovered Theophiel to fly into action, reaching out to nearby Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and rushing him to the Sanctuary veterinary clinic.

Theophiel needed help, fast.

Taking time to heal from trauma

The best word to describe Theophiel when he arrived at the clinic was “dull.” He didn’t have the bright-eyed curiosity typical of kittens his age, nor did he shrink away in fear of all the unknown sights, sounds, and smells around him. He shied away from his head being touched, understandably, but it was only a small protest with a weak hiss. He was able to walk and even run when the mood struck him, but it seemed like he simply chose not to. It was too much work for his tired body and mind.

He showed signs of a neurological issue — his far-away gaze and reluctance to move (and the instability when he did). “It was like he had this disconnect between his brain and his body,” explains Best Friends vet tech Sarah Breeze.

It didn’t take long for veterinary staff to figure out what was going on with the fragile feline; the wound on his head told them right where to look. Theophiel had a fractured skull and trauma to his brain. It wasn’t a situation that could be fixed with surgery but with time. Veterinarians prescribed him pain medication and set him up in a comfortable room where he would have all the space and quiet he needed to relax and recover.

Veterinary staff kept a close eye on the raggedy kitten, gently bathing him when he wasn’t able to make it to the litter box and spending time speaking softly to him, reassuring him as best they could. His treatment was all supportive, making sure he was progressing in a positive direction.

[Cat with neurological disorder sees the world]

“Slowly, over time, the hissing stopped, and he started allowing petting,” Sarah says. “And then as he started, first, getting more comfortable here and, secondly, medically started improving, he started to walk around.” She explains how the vet team would get Theophiel settled somewhere in the room with his food nearby, and they’d come back to find him having eaten and snuggled himself in his kennel.

Day by day, Theophiel grew stronger, brighter. He began to shed that dull behavior he’d arrived with, leaning into petting and building up his purr. The wound on his head healed, and he was able to make it to the litter box, groom himself, and move around more and more. And as his gentle, dreamy personality began to shine through, everyone fell in love.

Two months after Theophiel arrived — when he was finally up and active, happy, and bright, if a bit prone to spacing out and wall gazing — he was ready to move out of the clinic and into Cat World. There is an area specifically designed for cats with special medical needs where Theophiel would have feline friends to play with as well as trained caregivers to make sure he only kept improving.

And from there, before too long, dreams would start coming true for the little kitten who’d survived a nightmare.

Reaching a paw out for love

Sébastien and his family have been involved with Best Friends for a decade, regularly traveling from their home to volunteer at the Sanctuary. “Whenever we think about going to a place that is good for the soul, we think about going to Best Friends to volunteer,” Sébastien’s mother, Isabella, says. So, when Isabella’s husband and their other son, Sébastien’s brother, set off on a business trip, mother and son decided it was the perfect opportunity for another trip to the Sanctuary — with, Isabella adds, no intention of adopting. A tale as old as time, you can probably see where this is going.

Sébastien and Isabella signed up for a couple of volunteer shifts at Cat World, and their first stop was the area for cats with special medical needs. Not only was it already a favorite of theirs, but it was also open and easily accessible for Sébastien, who uses a wheelchair outside of their home. And that is where they met Theophiel.

“He wasn’t out immediately at the front,” Sébastien recalls. “He certainly wasn’t one of the first cats I saw. But he came out pretty quickly. I had someone else in my lap, and (Theophiel) was playing. I just saw him, and he was so beautiful.”

Sébastien found himself wondering why the playful little kitten was in this area. Sure, he sometimes seemed like he wasn’t entirely aware of what was going on around him. But he wasn’t part of the daily rounds of medicine, and he didn’t need help going to the bathroom like many of his kitty roommates. So Sébastien asked, and Theophiel’s caregivers told him what had happened.

“It was really impressive; you wouldn’t know,” says Sébastien. “Throughout the day, I’d been playing with him, and yet the only thing you could really notice is that he was a little bit slower to follow things or change activities.”

[Cat with a neurological condition goes home to his No. 1 fan]

Theophiel showed Sébastien absolute trust, throwing his whole body into this new human with no fear of falling or rolling out of his arms. “There was just something about him; it was very special,” Sébastien says, smiling. “And he had no fear of my wheelchair either. I approached him in it, and he wasn’t shocked or fazed at all. He walked through and under it, lay down, and played with the spokes. He was totally great with that.”

When their morning shift was in a different area, Sébastien admits he was a bit distraught at not being able to see Theophiel again. So they set up a third shift that afternoon and went back to see him.

“That truly solidified it,” Sébastien says, “because I rolled in and he was sitting at the top of a little tower, and I rolled over and he looked up at me, very sleepy, and he just threw his whole body into my arms. The upper half of his body was in the air completely off the tower.” What could he do but fall more in love with the fluffy feline?

Sébastien and Isabella even took Theophiel back to their hotel for a sleepover, where he explored the bathroom counter and then spent the rest of his time purring and looking for attention. And as it became clear this was not just a case of wanting to bring every sweet cat home on a whim, Sébastien sat down and wrote up a proposal in the family’s group chat.

Even with OKs from everyone, Sébastien waited another week before making it official. He couldn’t stop thinking of the blue-eyed kitten. He adopted Theophiel, and with one more trip to the Sanctuary and back, a new furry family member had been added to the household.

Dreams come true

“We were a little bit worried because it takes him longer to process things,” Sébastien says. “But he settled in really easily. He is just so full of light, and we started seeing more and more of his personality every day in the first week. He's just wonderful.”

Introductions with the other cats and dogs of the family have been going smoothly, and they’re taking it slowly so everyone has a chance to get used to each other. “Sébastien takes him upstairs to be present with the others,” Isabella says. “And everybody comes and has a look at him. It just takes a little time. But he’s not a dominant cat, so I think that helps.”

And Theophiel definitely knows who his person is. He follows Sébastien everywhere around the house, always in the same room and most often cuddled as close as he can get. He’s found his voice, too, going from a silent observer to a conversational kitty who chirps up at Sébastien as they make their way through their home.

He sleeps in bed with Sébastien every night, taking over half of his pillow or stretching out across his chest. “He’s woken me up a few times, licking my hair,” Sébastien laughs.

Theophiel’s working his magic on everyone in the family, of course, moving through his new life softly as though in a dream. His little quirks — like stepping through his water dish to get to his food instead of going around or splaying his toes all the way out when he’s resting on the floor — bring a sparkle of laughter to everyone’s day. “All these sweet things that you discover about him, oh my gosh,” Isabella gushes. “He needs just a little extra tender love and care. The two of them (Sébastien and Theophiel) together are just perfect.”

“He’s incredible,” Sébastien concludes. “He couldn’t be enjoying himself more.” And for both of them, it really is a dream come true.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

Saving lives around the country

Together, we're creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide for pets and the people who care for them.

Let’s be friends! 

Connect with us on social media to stay in the loop about the lifesaving progress we’re making together.  

Facebook logo    Instagram logo    icon