We adopted Aizo almost two years ago. She was a street cat and I have no idea what she was doing in the early years of her life. She probably didn’t have a lot of contact with humans – or if she did, that contact wasn’t great because she was extremely timid when we first got her. Now we have her trust, but she still hisses at almost any new person she meets. She warms up to people very slowly. Aizo means ‘Be strong’ in Amharic.
Charaka was born in September last year. The litter she was a part of would be Aizo’s last – she was spayed later that year, under the mango trees, without any proper medical facilities (that’s another story). Charaka was one of three kittens. The other two died within a week, fading kitten syndrome, I guess, just not eating well enough and then one day those little creatures were lifeless.
Charaka grew strong. She ate well and played a lot. Then something happened. When she was about three months old, we found her in her usual spot on a blanket on the floor, but she wasn’t able to move. When we tried to lift her up and make her walk, she just collapsed and stared at the wall, somehow depressed, even lethargic. We panicked. It seemed she had lost her ability to walk.
The veterinary services in Ethiopia are not up to the standard I am used to receiving them in my home country. There are a few veterinarians who make home stops but their schedule is also tight and help doesn’t come immediately. My biggest concern was that should something happen, something really severe, and the cat would be suffering a lot, how would we put her down gently? Even anesthesia medicine is difficult to find here.
I didn’t expect the situation to get much better. Charaka wasn’t moving and didn’t show improvement. However, we got hold of our local veterinarian who said he had heard and seen how paralyzed or semi-paralyzed cats got better with physiotherapy. He urged us to give it a try but also warned us that this was something that needed commitment. Three therapy sessions a day.
Physiotherapy for cats? You are probably laughing right now. So were many people here. Better just to put the cat down, they said.
But we chose to try. So starting from those days, we had daily exercise sessions with Charaka. She was lying in my lap on her back and I would stretch her front and hind legs, make cat lunges, butterfly movements and various other things. She always enjoyed those sessions. She closed her eyes and sometimes even purred. This we continued for a long time. We didn’t see any immediate results. She was mainly lying on her blanket all day long except for those sessions. We had to bring her food and even help her relieve herself in the toilet. This was round the clock care for the little kitten (and luckily we had some helpers here in our home)!
But patience was rewarded. In January she started taking baby steps again. It looked so funny, I wish I had a video to show you. It was as if she was learning to walk again from scratch, and I guess that’s exactly what she had to do. But little by little it got better. She could get to the toilet and food bowl by herself. She could jump to the sofa if she could first grab the blanket on the sofa with her claws (her shoulder muscles got strongest first during the therapy).
To this day I am not sure what got to her initially. We have heard similar stories of paralyzed cats in this town – maybe a genetic failure? But cat paralysis can even be caused by some trauma, an accident or falling from a high place.
Although Charaka was showing signs of improvement, we continued with the physiotherapy. And we continued with another bonus number. It was our tradition that after the session I put on Jump by Pointer Sister (don’t ask why!) and held Charaka in my lap, her cheek pressed against mine. We would dance like this for minutes. Yes, she means a lot to me.
Then came more improvements. She could jump and do all kinds of kitty catty activities. By late February we were beginning to feel sure that she had got her head above the water. She had made it!
And all this with the simple act of physiotherapy! Without getting that tip from the veterinarian I would probably have given up. I wasn’t experienced in cat rehabilitation. Today I recommend it anyone who is in a similar situation. Now we have a Charaka who is a sturdy, playful 10 months old cat with a very strong bond to her owners (and vice versa).
I sometimes dream about setting up some sort of animal rescue place here in Bahir Dar (and yes, I know, I am probably the 1000th foreigner to come up with this idea). This place desperately needs a proper veterinary clinic and a place for animals to obtain operations and proper care. Sterilizations are needed and vaccinations are needed. There are so many street animals here.
I don’t understand how people can be unkind or cruel to living beings, may it be cats, dogs, other humans, cows or donkeys, dolphins, birds. If we valued every living creature as a sentient being, this world would be a better place. Animals are good teachers.
I realize some people can argue that it is easy for us from rich countries to be loving to pet animals since we are already doing well in our daily life and our basic needs are fulfilled. I have to say I strongly disagree. Circumstances shouldn’t prevent us from trying to feel empathy towards living beings. And that argument fails also because there are people in rich countries who treat animals like shit. State of mind, is all it is. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and spend some time with Aizo and Charaka.