In late October, with autumn leaves at peak color, Tara Vito first stepped foot inside the Conway Area Humane Society, eager to apply for work. A few days before the interview, she visited CAHS’ website. For the past ten years, Tara worked as a library director. In her work with school libraries, Tara helped students, teachers, and parents increase access to quality educational opportunities. She knew her past experience with community outreach, publications, and grant writing could serve CAHS, and her website investigation aimed to explore this further. On the CAHS website, Tara came across an adoption listing for a cat with large, beautiful eyes: Abby.
Tara’s quest for a cat began last summer. “My partner Chris and I had recently moved to the Conway area. We were beyond grateful to find rental housing after a two month search. It’s a tough market. We were even more grateful to have landlords who allowed cats. The day we signed our lease, we realized ‘cat ownership’ was handwritten into the document!” Tara and Chris had discussed the possibility of adopting a cat for months, and that lease was a green light to proceed. Tara got the job she was preparing for, and also met Abby on her first day of work. She learned that Abby was roughly eight years old and was open to being held by a complete stranger. Upon meeting Abby, Tara also noticed that Abby’s large, empathetic eyes were somewhat misshapen. When she asked staff about this irregular shape, Tara learned that Abby was partially blind. This was an important detail to understand. Part of responsible pet ownership is understanding a pet’s medical issues and financially planning for treatment. Just like all living creatures, cats can develop health issues as they age. CAHS was unsure how Abby had developed her vision problems, but explained that vision loss in cats can be associated with thyroid issues, high blood pressure, or kidney complications. These issues could become apparent in time, and are treatable with medication and dietary changes.
With a realistic understanding of Abby’s ailments, Tara and Chris completed a form to become foster parents. Abby had been at the shelter since August, which is not surprising for an older cat (kittens and puppies are often adopted quicker than older animals). They both saw fostering as a way to give Abby a warm, welcoming home while she awaited adoption. They also saw fostering as a trial period to understand Abby’s personality, her needs, and how vision loss impacts Abby’s life. CAHS provides strong support for people who foster animals. Tara and Chris were given all the supplies needed to care for Abby, and instructions to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Abby’s first night in a new home was quiet. She explored the apartment, and found a nice hiding place underneath Chris’ keyboard stand in the living room, where she stared at both Chris and Tara, who sat on the couch. As the days went on, Abby became a tiny shadow, following Chris and Tara around the house, inching closer and closer towards their laps. A week later, Abby was a bonafide lap cat, actively meowing for affection.
“It is amazing how resilient animals are,” Tara remarked, referring to Abby’s vision loss. Tara got Abby’s vision checked by a veterinarian, confirming that she was 75% blind. Chris and Tara noticed scant evidence of Abby’s vision loss. Abby would come into the bedroom at night, for instance, but not attempt to jump on the bed. She would meow when the lights went off at night. It was clear she wanted attention, but wasn’t coming to them directly for that attention. When first brought home, Abby would jump and hiss when Chris and Tara tried to pet Abby on the right side of her body. Abby’s right eye ended up having full vision loss. With some time to trust Chris and Tara as patient and responsible owners, Abby stopped the jumping and hissing entirely.
“With the exception of not jumping on counters, we have an eight-year-old cat who acts like a kitten!” When Abby isn’t being a complete couch potato, she gallops around the house, fully invested in any toy that Tara and Chris bring to her attention. She is exceptionally fortunate for Chris’ engineering background, and the number of toys he has created or enhanced for her benefit. He even created an entertaining feeding system where Abby reaches up to hit a ball with a bell inside. That ball, when moved, releases food. This helps Abby practice coordination, and get a bit of exercise, in return for yummy treats. This system also encourages Abby to use her sense of smell to find food on the ground, compensating for her vision difficulties.
As Abby ages, she may lose more of her vision. There are problems that can arise as this happens, such as not being able to find her litter box. Fortunately, there are simple solutions. Predictability is key. Both Tara and Chris have dedicated spaces for Abby’s litter box, toys, food, and water. Investing in a textured carpet or runner that leads to the litterbox will be an investment to make in time, if she continues to lose eyesight.
Although Abby benefits from Chris’ engineering background, she probably doesn’t get as much benefit from Tara’s creativity, which manifests in endearing nicknames and funny images. Regardless, Tara and Chris’ joint efforts are are a strong testament to the love they both share for a cat that takes the statement ‘love is blind’ to an entirely new level.