Despite his special needs, this kitten was born to be happy

Waffle the kitten doesn't walk on his hind legs, but thanks to foster homes and acupuncture he gets around just fine.
By Jessie Miller

Waffle Love is a kitten in every sense of the word: He’s super snuggly and loves being with people. But he also began life by defying the odds, and his story inspires anyone who has faced obstacles and overcome the impossible.

Kitten stands out from the rest

Just days old, Waffle Love and his siblings were found in a field and brought to the West Valley City Animal Services shelter in West Valley City, Utah. But shelters aren’t ideal for newborn kittens because their still-developing immune systems are too weak to fight off infections. So, the kittens were transferred to the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City, where they could be placed in foster homes until they were ready for adoption.

When the kittens arrived at Best Friends, the medical team noticed that Waffle Love was having difficulty using his hind legs. Further exams revealed that his hind legs aren’t connected to the ball joints. While his back leg muscles provide mobility, he primarily gets around by using the front of his body to pull his back end forward. Waffle Love simply doesn’t walk like other cats, but that doesn’t stop him enjoying life. He’s a kitten, after all.

Waffle Love the kitten hiding in a box for a 12-pack of Coka-Cola

A foster mom who knows the ropes

The next best step was to place Waffle Love in a foster home with someone who has experience helping kittens with special needs. Danielle Barnhart, foster coordinator at Best Friends in Utah, stepped up to help. She had recently fostered Rexie Roo, a kitten without front legs, so if she could help Rexie Roo, she most certainly could help little Waffle Love. As she puts it, helping cats with special needs is “her jam.”

Danielle decided to foster Waffle Love along with his sister, Donut Kabob, and brought them to the center with her every day so they could be bottle-fed and remain under her watchful eye.

Masked person holding Waffle Love and Donut Kebab the kittens

Expressing a cat ― not as hard as it seems

Although the two kittens grew bigger and stronger while they were in foster care, Danielle noticed that Waffle Love was missing an important milestone. While his sister readily used the litter box, he did not. Concerned that he was incontinent, Danielle had the medical team examine him to see if her hunch was correct. It was. With their guidance, Danielle helped Waffle Love go potty by expressing him on a daily basis.

"He’s not a lot of extra work as people might think," says Danielle, who likens expressing a cat to taking a dog out for a potty break. She says anyone with proper instruction can learn how to express a pet in need.

Waffle Love the kitten lying on his back on a blue and white blanket

As it turned out, none of this got in the way of Waffle Love having a good time. Despite his special needs, he remained determined to have fun and enjoy life. To document his inspiring journey, Danielle created an Instagram page called WaffletheWonk.


A post shared by Waffle Love (@wafflethewonk) on

[Total transformation for a declawed, chubby kitty]

Kitten acupuncture

After a little time at Danielle’s place, Waffle Love’s true colors really began to shine. Using his front legs, he began climbing onto the furniture and played with everything. Soon it was time to think about his future. Where was the next best place for him?

The place, it turned out, was about 300 miles south at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where he could receive acupuncture and electrotherapy, two treatments that could help him gain mobility in his hind legs.

Not long after his arrival, Waffle Love met Heather Purdy, a Best Friends vet technician, who took the little kitten into her home to continue his foster care. She also began bringing him to the Best Friends Animal Clinic for acupuncture and electrotherapy to help create nerve signals for muscle movement, with the goal of stimulating his legs.

[Tale of a cat princess and the power of fostering]

Dr. Chrissy sitting in a kennel with Waffle Love the kitten on a towel on her lap administering stimulation treatment

Dr. Christina Shepherd, interim lead veterinarian at the clinic, says the hope is to get some nerve function going and begin to get his back legs moving.

Nothing stops kitten with special needs

“People shouldn’t be scared of adopting a special needs cat,” says Danielle, who after watching someone fall in love and adopt Rexie Roo knows the same thing can happen for Waffle Love. After all, he has the energy and perseverance to overcome any obstacle, and his inability to sit still is proof he isn’t stopping (except maybe for a cuddle on someone’s lap).

Waffle Love the kitten walking straight toward the camera on a blue and white blanket

Fill your home with kitten joy

It’s kitten season, so adopting little bundle of love and joy now goes a long way in helping shelters save lives

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Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas and Molly Wald