Blind kitten with the heart of a lion

Leon the blind orange tabby kitten lying on a blanket
Leon lost his eyes when he was a tiny kitten, but today he’s having the time of his life with his best kitten buddy in his new home.
By Jenny Agnew

Nothing stops Leon from taking on the world (or at least the home where he lives today). He runs, climbs to the top of his cat tree, hides in boxes and wrestles with his kitten BFF, Poppy Seed. He even sits on the windowsill to “see” what’s happening in the neighborhood. You could say Leon’s just any other mischievous-but-so-adorable kitten, except for one thing: Leon can’t see.

When the tiny kitten was sent to Best Friends in Los Angeles last November from a Los Angeles Animal Services shelter, his eyes were in bad shape. A medical team examination determined that his eyes were permanently damaged, quite possibly from a bad upper respiratory infection. He was in pain every day, and so the best next step to help him was surgery to remove both eyes.

Leon’s surgery was a success and he handled his recovery time at the lifesaving center like a little champ. But that’s not to say he passed the time sleeping peacefully in his cat condo. Courtney Bean, lifesaving outcomes coordinator for Best Friends in Los Angeles, remembers the orange kitten as quiet until he received some attention. She says that once he understood what love was all about, he became quite vocal and even a bit feisty.

[Life on three limbs can’t slow down this kitten]

After Leon healed at Best Friends for a few days, it was time for him to go to a foster home where he would be able to learn how to better navigate a world without sight. Heather Ramsey welcomed him into her home until he was ready to be adopted.

Helping a blind kitten navigate a new world

Heather had fostered another blind kitten before bringing Leon home and was prepared to help him learn how to get around. When Leon was up on the couch and needed to get down, he would meow for her. Heather would tap the floor so he understood where to land, and once she knew he could handle the jump, she would often wait him out and hold back the tap, letting him trust his own instincts.

Leon quickly learned to navigate Heather’s house by putting his paw out in front of him and also by trial and error, which occasionally included bumping into objects. He also learned to move forward with his head down and use the soft cone he wore after his surgery as a bumper when he walked into walls.

Helping Leon the most was Poppy Seed, a smaller, younger black kitten also brought home by Heather to foster. With Poppy Seed by his side, Leon got around much easier. With his coloring and leonine coat, he was starting to become a tiny king of the jungle (or at least the house), just like his majestic animal namesake.

Cat gets new home, shares it with new BFF

Cheryl Clark and her partner Gary Pis had recently lost their 18-year-old cat, so the couple started thinking about adopting another pet. Cheryl remembered that her high school friend, Heather Ramsey, fosters cats and kittens with Best Friends, so she contacted her. The lucky kittens found a home together with Cheryl and Gary, who were excited to adopt them both.

Contrary to what Cheryl had read online about introducing a blind cat to new surroundings, Leon did not have to be relegated to a small area within the house — not even at first. Instead, he quickly proved that he could get around with ease, just like Poppy Seed. “You’d be amazed,” says Cheryl of Leon’s smooth transition, which likely was made easier having Poppy Seed by his side.

“He’s an instigator (and) he’s not as innocent as he looks,” says Cheryl of Leon, who has full run of the house. The dog bed is home base during chase games, and when Leon attempts to jump on something, sometimes he misses. But he shakes off the misstep and the games ensue. With a heightened sense of hearing, Leon is very responsive to voices and will come right away when he’s called.

[Kitten lends a helping paw to her blind brother]

With Poppy Seed wearing a bell on his collar, Leon always knows where to find him. But even when he’s not wearing the bell, Leon can still locate his BFF. Like Heather, Cheryl also taps the floor to help him get down from a perch. Leon loves it when people come over to visit and has yet to meet a stranger. When Leon and Poppy Seed’s play sessions end, it’s time to cuddle with their humans.

One of Leon’s favorite resting spots is a bed nestled on a windowsill. Cheryl coaxed him onto the bed at first, and he now sits there and enjoys “bird TV.” While most cats may take in the show with their eyes, Leon uses his ears to enjoy the experience.

Cheryl read somewhere that blind cats are able to “see with their hearts.” Now, thankful for the team at Best Friends and how much help Leon has received, she encourages adopters to consider pets with special needs as a new family member. The way she sees it, the widest of vistas, stretching farther than the eye can see, will open for both the adopter and the animal.