When Sara Hill’s veterinarian called her in May 2020 to see if she was interested in adopting a special needs kitten who was at risk of being euthanized by her owner, she was eager to help the young cat.
“They informed me that she had cerebellar hypoplasia — along with spinal, sternum, and other bone deformities — and couldn’t walk, and that her former owner just didn’t have enough time to devote to a special needs kitten,” remembers Sara.
Fortunately, she and her husband Preston had the time and plenty of plenty experience caring for cats with special needs, including those with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition that affects balance and coordination and often occurs when a cat is exposed to an illness, such as panleukopenia, while in the womb. “I have two other CH cats, Maple and Misty Sue, and lost my other CH cat Kleo to seizures earlier that year,” explains Sara. “I knew I had the experience needed and time needed to devote to her.”
On May 22, 2020, Sara picked the three-month-old cat up from up from her veterinarian’s office and brought her back to her home in Bloomington, Illinois, uncertain of what the future might hold for the young black and white cat. “The veterinarian said they didn’t know how long she would live because of her bone deformities, that her rib cage was very small and her sternum may end up putting pressure on internal organs,” explains Sara, “but I knew I could give her the best life for however long it may be.”
While her future was uncertain, the adorable special needs cat didn’t waste any time charming her new parents with her affectionate and loving personality, causing Preston to name her Nilla Bean as an ode to both her unique markings and gentle demeanor. “It is because she is all white and sweet like vanilla but has a little black bean on her nose,” says Sara.
When Nilla Bean first arrived at their home, she was unable to walk and had been bottle fed her entire life, so the couple had to teach her how to eat and drink from a bowl. They also began doing physical therapy with Nilla Bean to help her become more mobile, and she eventually learned to walk despite having cerebellar hypoplasia and a variety of malformations.
“Her spine is curved and her sternum goes inward,” explains Sara. “Her back feet are curled under and her front legs are abnormally long. Her toes also are missing joints and some have extra joints. We are unsure what caused her spinal, sternum, and other bone deformities, but the vet suggested that it may have been caused by inbreeding or just underdevelopment while in the womb.”
Nearly a year after coming to live with Sara and Preston, Nilla Bean is doing well, but she’s definitely not as coordinated as a typical cat. Consequently, she is unable to use a litter box, so she relies on her parents to help her when she needs to relieve herself. “She is on washable blankets in case of any accidents,” says Sara, “but now we have a bathroom routine and she never goes in her crib anymore.”
While Nilla Bean’s coordination has definitely improved since the day Sara and Preston adopted her — thanks largely to daily exercise and play sessions to strengthen her muscles — she still struggles to drink from a bowl without her parents to lean on for support.
Thankfully, they are more than happy to provide this special girl with extra care and attention she needs to thrive, and even though Nilla Bean isn’t as mobile as the average feline, she has a very active lifestyle. “She loves going on car rides out to the lake for nature walks and picnics and going to the pet store and picking out toys,” explains Sara. “She loves toys that are noisy and she can chew on. She loves playtime on the floor where we practice walking. She also loves baths and playing with the other cats.”
Even though it’s incredibly apparent Nilla Bean has an excellent quality of life, her parents have discovered a common misconception is that cats with limited mobility must be in pain or unhappy. Sara has also found some people believe cats like Nilla Bean are incapable of having “normal” lives and should be euthanized, sentiments she adamantly disagrees with. “These cats don’t even know they are different,” says Sara. “What they lack in mobility they make up for in personality.”
While she and her husband weren’t looking to get another cat when Nilla Bean came into their lives in May 2020, Sara is so thankful they decided to adopt this very special girl. After all, not only does Nilla Bean have an incredibly sweet disposition, she’s both a companion and an inspiration to her mom and dad.
“Nilla Bean means everything to me and our family,” says Sara. “She inspires us every day with how hard she works to overcome obstacles. She really is my best friend — I take care of her every need and is the first thing I think of every morning.”
To learn more about this beautiful cat, you can follow Nilla Bean on Instagram.