| By Lisa Graham |
This is a story about love and acceptance, fur and photography.
Let’s start from the beginning. I was mesmerized by a pair of baby blue eyes.
Late one Sunday evening in 2014 , I saw a posting on Pet Finder for a sweet-faced Siamese/Hemingway mix named Cleo who was longing to find her forever home.
Cleo was so beautiful, I was almost certain the posting was an old one… Surely someone had already adopted her, but I just had to know!
Unable to sleep that night, I counted the hours until Monday morning to call the rescue agency and find out if she was still available.
And she was!
Overjoyed, I listened as the rescuer shared the story of finding 11-month-old Cleo with her three kittens in a shelter, and rescuing them just one day before they were scheduled to be put to sleep!
In foster care, Cleo quickly repaid the rescuer’s kindness by nursing four motherless kittens in addition to her own babies. What a sweet story! I could hardly wait to meet this very special cat.
However, the rescuer had something else to tell me…
Cleo had been born with misaligned front legs. Unlike most cats, she doesn’t walk on her toes, but instead maneuvers around on her elbows.
I was stunned. I’ve always been a cat lover, but had never heard of a one walking around on its elbows, and didn’t know what to think. So, I began to ask many questions. Was Cleo in pain? Was she able to eat and drink from a bowl? Could she climb into and out of a litter box by herself?
The rescuer quickly assured me. “Oh, Cleo’s not disabled. She’s just different and has adapted herself to do the same things as other cats, but in her own unique way. It’s amazing to watch her walk around on those little elbows, which resemble paddles.”
But, again, the rescuer cautioned me.
After seeing her photo, many people had been interested in Cleo, but when they actually saw her in person and watched her paddling around on her elbows, they decided not to adopt her because they feared she would require expensive medical care. Sadly, courageous Cleo had been rejected many times.
“She’s very loving and deserves a chance,” the rescuer said softly. “All she needs is for someone to believe in her.”
As I shared Cleo’s story with my husband, Bill, we agreed that we could provide all the love and care she could possibly need. So, the following day, my mom and I drove to meet her at a Petco in Tampa.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw her walk…
When the rescuer gently set Cleo down on the floor, I watched as the petite cat paddled over on her little elbows to joyfully greet us with sweet friendliness. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I scooped her up and said, “You’re perfect, and I’m not leaving without you!”
Although she’s a Siamese, she also has the six-toed feet of a Hemingway cat, and since her paws look similar to catcher’s mitts, we decided to rename her “Mitzi.”
There are so many things Mitzi can do, and watching her adaptability is like opening a new gift each day! Her right front leg is longer than her left, so to keep from toppling over when sitting, she tucks her longer leg inside her hip.
Like a meerkat, she can perch on her back feet to accept a treat from your hand. Using her front legs as paddles, she bats ping-pong balls and surprisingly is quick enough to chase lizards. From the very first day, she took complete control over our home and appointed herself as the official greeter of visitors. Everyone is enchanted by her!
Mitzi’s adaptability has also encouraged me in a very special way.
Due to extremely thin eye membranes, I have suffered detached retinas in both eyes, and although I’ve had surgery to repair them, hazy vision still remains, so I was uncertain about pursuing photography. However, after witnessing how Mitzi adapts to and overcomes her challenges each day, I was inspired to adapt as well.
While studying photography methods and editing techniques, I asked God to inspire my creativity, because, after all, He is the Master Creator. As a result, I started Pix Synergy Fine Art Photography. My images have won awards and have been featured in publications, galleries and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.
Beginning with the 2017 Downtown Clermont Art Festival, Bill and I have brought our “outdoor gallery” to festivals throughout Florida and will be participating in a number of upcoming shows, including the Winter Park Autumn Art and Halifax Art festivals.
When Chicken Soup for the Soul announced a call for stories about rescue cats, I decided to pay tribute to our courageous little cat who has taught me so much by writing a short story, titled “Blue Eyes & Elbows.”
Several months later, I received notice that my story had been selected from thousands of submissions to be included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat Really Did That? The company donates a portion of the book’s proceeds to help rescue and feed cats throughout the country.
Last September, I was honored to provide readings of my story during the Children’s Reading Hour at the Orlando Cat Café.
Special needs animals can inspire us. I hope that Mitzi’s story will encourage people to adopt them and give them the chance they deserve.
Lisa Faire Graham is a fifth-generation native Floridian whose ancestors moved to the South Lake County area in the 1800s. Lisa retired from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman and is an award-winning fine art photographer.