Veterinary technician Carmen Bernard was driving down a country road outside Jacksonville, Fla., when she spotted what she thought was an opossum in the road. She pulled over to help the critter, but discovered the animal was actually a 5-week-old Siamese kitten.
The kitten’s hind legs were twisted and Bernard suspected the cat had been hit by a car, so she took the animal to the vet.
However, according to veterinarians, the kitten wasn’t injured but had several severe deformities. X-rays revealed that the cat’s right leg was backwards and her kneecap was on the back of her leg. As a result, her leg’s muscles and tendons were also reversed, causing her bones to twist. Her left leg was deformed as well, although not as severely as her right.
The irregularities made it difficult for the kitten to walk and caused her a significant amount of pain.
In addition to her twisted legs, the kitten, which Bernard named Pretzel, was also irreversibly blind.
Given her many disabilities, the vet concluded that a cat like Pretzel was unadoptable.
"The vet said, you have two choices: You can either stick in this for the long haul or you can put her to sleep,” Bernard told television stations WXJT. “And I had to give her a chance."
Now 5 months old, Pretzel has already undergone surgery to correct her right knee, an operation that involved cutting her bones in half and repositioning them. Once her bones heal, Pretzel will undergo a similar procedure on her other leg.
Although Bernard was worried about Pretzel’s recovery, the kitten proved her resilience by walking on her cast the day after surgery.
Pretzel has also learned her way around the house despite her blindness, and she’s made friends with Bernard’s two dogs, a Boston terrier and a blind Pekingese.
"Animals are so much better at adapting to situations than people are,” Bernard says. “If she wasn’t wearing a cast, you wouldn’t know that she’d had anything done to her. It hasn’t slowed her down a bit."
Bernard says Pretzel holds a special place in her heart because of experiences she had as child. Born in Guam with a severe heart defect, Bernard wasn’t expected to survive, but her mother moved the family to the United States, where Bernard received life-saving open-heart surgery.
"I lived, and I’m thriving because of it," Bernard says. "My mom didn’t give up on me, so I’m kind of paying it forward."
But Pretzel has been an inspiration to more than her rescuer. Thanks to her Facebook following of nearly 20,000 people, she's able to share her journey with disabled children worldwide.
"I have parents of children with disabilities say their kids are able to identify with the cat. That really brings a tear to my eye sometimes, when parents say how much they appreciate me sharing the cat with them to show those kids that they aren’t alone."
More cat rescue stories on MNN:
- Custom leggings help disabled cat walk
- Blind kitten becomes Internet sensation
- Kitten with rare birth defect fights to get back on his feet