When Nicole discovered three feral kittens had sought refuge on her property in Riverside, California, after being frightened by a dog, she rescued the trio of young felines on May 21, 2020.
“All the kittens were covered in fleas and dirt and had worms,” says Nicole, and she also noticed one of them was unable to use his hind legs. “I got them fed and cleaned up the best I could and then started to research rear leg paralysis.”
Upon closer examination, Nicole determined the paralyzed kitten’s hind limbs didn’t have any muscle mass, indicating he probably hadn’t been able to move his back legs in a very long time, if ever. Also, while he didn’t have any obvious signs of trauma, a visit to the vet revealed one of legs was crooked due to a fracture that had healed poorly, and he’d suffered a spinal injury. “We aren’t sure what caused it,” says Nicole. “It could have been caused by the dog that scared his litter or it could have been earlier.”
Initially, Nicole and her husband planned on fostering the kittens until they were eight weeks old, and then they would find homes for them or take them to a rescue. When their self-imposed deadline arrived, the couple had already found homes for the two able-bodied kittens, leaving the little ginger cat with hind leg paralysis.
“The thought of turning him over to a place that may euthanize him because of his legs terrified me,” remembers Nicole. “The more I learned about rear leg paralysis and the more I cared for him, I knew he belonged with me.”
While it took a few weeks of convincing, Nicole’s husband eventually agreed to adopt the orange special needs cat, whom the couple named Koda. “My husband and I always loved the name Dakota,” explains Nicole. “We knew this kitten was going to be very special to us, so we gave him the nickname of that name, Koda.”
At first, figuring out how to care for Koda was a challenge for the couple, but after doing lots of research and speaking with other people with paralyzed and incontinent cats, they eventually discovered the best ways to meet his unique nutritional needs, express his bladder, and prepare his diapers. “Thankfully, the community on Instagram for animals with special needs is truly amazing and helpful,” says Nicole.
Approximately 18 months later, Koda is doing extremely well, and even though he has incontinence and hind leg paralysis, he’s really not that different from a typical feline.
In fact, he doesn’t have any trouble keeping up with the other cats who share his home, including the kittens Nicole and her husband have fostered. “He becomes an amazing big brother,” says Nicole. “He plays with them, grooms them, and teaches them to be a cat. Koda loves kittens.”
In addition to caring for his family’s foster kittens, Koda likes to play, especially with his favorite mouse toy, and he loves to cuddle with his parents. “He gets into super snuggle moods and will flop over on the floor,” says Nicole. “Then he will purr and chirp and I give him lots of scratches, pets and cuddles.”
Koda also enjoys traveling, and he has accompanied his parents on multiple trips over the past year. “He sleeps in the car and is happy to be in his clear backpack,” says Nicole.
However, Nicole and her husband are planning a trip for the summer of 2022 that Koda won’t be able to go on, so they will have to teach a family member how to care for him while they’re away.
While Nicole knows caring for a cat with incontinence and paralysis can be intimidating at first, she believes it’s actually a lot easier than people often assume. Nicole has also encountered individuals who assume paralyzed and incontinent cats must be suffering or unhappy, which couldn’t be farther from the truth when it comes to Koda.
“I want people to look at Koda and see the happiness and joy in his eyes,” says Nicole. “I want them to know that they could give an animal like Koda the joy of life too.”
By sharing Koda’s story, Nicole hopes people will not only realize euthanasia isn’t the only option for cats and kittens with paralysis and incontinence, but also how much they desperately need loving homes. While Nicole — who works with children with special needs — didn’t know anything about caring for an incontinent or paralyzed animal when she rescued Koda in May 2020, she’s so glad she made him a permanent member of her family. “
My life has changed so much in a positive way since getting Koda,” says Nicole. “He has taught me so much about being brave and being happy despite challenges. I would have a ‘Koda-shaped’ hole in my heart without him.”
To learn more about this handsome cat, you can follow Koda on Instagram.