When Heide was asked if she and her partner Zan would be willing to foster Zebedee X, or Z, a Sphynx kitten who was born with severe cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), she immediately agreed. “We were familiar with CH,” says Heide, “but not one as severe as Z’s.”
Cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-progressive neurological condition that occurs in utero, often when an unborn kitten is exposed to a virus, such as feline panleukopenia, causing them to be born with underdeveloped cerebellums. “[The cerebellum is] responsible for coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills,” explains Heide.
Cerebellar hypoplasia can range from moderate to severe, causing some cats to have minor mobility issues, while others are unable to walk. In January 2021, Z was less than a month old when he was rescued by Road Dogs & Rescue, a California organization primarily dedicated to helping canines in need.
“Z came from a breeder surrender at three weeks old when he started falling behind his other siblings,” says Heide. “The vet had suggested euthanasia, but someone reached out to Road Dogs and asked if they could take him in.”
A few weeks after he was rescued, Z arrived at Heide and Zan’s home in Los Angeles on March 5, 2021, a day the couple will never forget. “Automatically we thought he was an alien,” remembers Heide, causing them to give him Cosmo as his middle name. “He was all ears. Smaller than he should be.”
While Z didn’t look like a typical cat, he was incredibly vocal and sweet, but due to his cerebellar hypoplasia, he needed more help than the average kitten. “We noticed his challenges right away,” says Heide. “He couldn’t sit up on his own. He could barely hold his head up.”
Fortunately, Heide and Zan were able to give Z the time and attention he needed to thrive, and over time, his symptoms improved. “Once we had his routine down and he kept hitting his goals — holding his head up, eating with his feeder — the feelings for us were of proud parents,” remembers Heide.
Not surprisingly, after fostering Z for a month, Heide and Zan knew there was no way they’d ever be able to part with the one-of-a-kind feline, so they officially adopted him on April 5, 2021. More than five months later, Z is doing better than ever, and he loves spending time with adoptive sister, Nella, a French Bulldog, and his mom and dad. “Z man loves to talk to us, and he loves to play with his light up toys,” says Heide. “He wrestles with them in his heated pod.”
While Z enjoys playing with catnip and light up toys, he’s especially sensitive to sound, so Heide and Zan avoid toys that make a lot of noise. “The first time we noticed it, he was playing with a wand toy that had a louder than usual bell,” remembers Heide. “He started to get aggressive and couldn’t control his movements. It took him a few minutes to calm down.”
Z also becomes easily overwhelmed by the sound of the vacuum cleaner, causing him to fling himself around the room and bounce off the walls. Thankfully, Heide quickly found a relatively simple and effective solution to this issue. “When I vacuum now, he goes into a different room with the sound machine on,” explains Heide.
Even though Z can’t walk or sit up fully on his own, he’s a very mobile and independent cat. In fact, aside from his feeder, which helps keep Z and his bowl stable while he eats, and a playpen to help him stay safe when his parents aren’t around, he doesn’t require a lot of special accommodations. “Besides needing a little bit of extra guidance while growing up, cats with CH can live a normal yet wobbly life just like cats without CH,” says Heide.
By sharing Z’s story, Heide hopes more people will consider adopting cats with special needs, especially felines with cerebellar hypoplasia. “I think some people may be wary of CH cats just because of their first impression,” says Heide, with people being upset by their wobbly walks or automatically assuming they are messier than average felines.
Thankfully, Heide and Zan weren’t deterred by Z’s cerebellar hypoplasia, and more than six months after agreeing to foster him, they are both so grateful they opened their home to this incredibly special and resilient boy. “Z brought some much needed light to our hearts,” says Heide. “When I look at him I see strength, patience, and determination. There is nothing that can stop him from what he wants. It’s inspiring to watch him grow.”
To learn more about this adorable cat, you can follow Z on Instagram.