Boy Scouts, doctors help paralyzed cat

Monday, September 18, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Socks the kitten reached for the dancing leash but never managed to grab it. The leash kept slipping through her paws.

For most cats, such play would constitute part of a normal happy-go-lucky day, but for Socks, it's therapeutic fun she enjoys with the help of a wheelchair built by area Boy Scouts.

The "wheelchair" looks like a chariot. Crafted of PVC pipe, it features two pint-sized Goodyear tires from a Dodge Ram remote-controlled truck. The kitty cart supports Socks' back left leg, which is partially paralyzed. She tumbles occasionally, but she can pick herself up, if she desires. She welcomes assistance.

"She's a perfect kitten," said Bonnie Keearns, Socks' guardian angel. "You touch her and she purrs."

Socks was injured when a sofa fell on her as it was being moved. She was 8 to 10 weeks old. The tiny bundle of fur arrived at Crago Veterinary Clinic where an X-ray revealed bruises on her spinal cord and both of her back legs were paralyzed. With the help of medicine and therapy, she regained the use of her back right leg within several days.

When no one returned for Socks after about two weeks, the clinic sent the owner a certified letter. The owner signed for the letter but didn't pick up Socks within the allotted 10 days. By law, the kitten became the property of the clinic.

"It was a nice little kitty," said Dr. Jim Crago, veterinarian. "It just needed a home."

By that time, Keearns, a certified veterinary technician, had begun taking Socks with her at the end of her shift.

"She needed attention at nighttime," Keearns said, "and no one was there."

Socks crawled, dragging her left back leg. When a sore developed on Socks' hip, Keearns treated and bandaged it.

"It was huge, the size of a quarter," she said. "It was nasty."

Keearns decided the kitten needed a wheelchair. Her husband, John, photographed the chair of a dog who comes to the clinic and designed one for Socks. Members of the Boy Scout troop he leads in Holts Summit took measurements, cut the PVC pipe and glued the pieces together.

Westlake Ace Hardware donated the pipe, webbing and hardware. A ferret harness connects Socks to the wheelchair, and an extra-small doggie diaper acts like a sling and supports her rear end. When Socks uses the apparatus, she's standing on her back legs, albeit with help.

'We got it done'

"We had to glue the pieces together very fast because we used a kind of glue that dries in 30 seconds," said Jack Keearns, 11. "We had help and it wasn't hard. We got it done."

Scouts Aaron Duncan, Kenny Brandis, and Caleb Watson also worked on the wheelchair.

Caleb considered the end result the best part of the project. As Socks walked away, Caleb caught a look of gratitude in her eyes.

"It was so cool to see the kitten walk once again after its back was messed up," the 12-year-old boy said. "Once it started to move, it was really exciting."

John Keearns motivated Socks to move by dangling a string in front of her. She now spends at least two hours a day walking and playing while strapped into the wheelchair. She has earned the nickname "Robo Kitty."

Bonnie Keearns considers time in the wheelchair part of Socks' therapy. Keearns also stretches Socks' legs out and works them up and down, 30 times on each side, and she does hydrotherapy. By running warm water down Socks' back, Keearns hopes to stimulate the nerves running to the back left leg, which lacks strength and coordination. In addition, the clinic began treatments this week with a micro-electrical stimulator.

"We're hopeful it will bring back what was lost," Crago said. "There are a lot of good reports from other practices using it."

Bonnie Keearns has made rescuing animals a habit. She and her family also care for a 140-pound Great Pyrenees found on Missouri Boulevard, a chinchilla that someone couldn't keep and a bearded dragon that used to have a deformed leg. Calcium supplements helped it heal.

The Keearns family would like to keep Socks, too, but Keearns' husband and son are allergic to cats. They are looking for someone special to adopt Socks.

The clinic will work out an arrangement for Socks' electrotherapy, and the Boy Scouts will adjust Socks' wheelchair as she grows. When questions arise, Keearns and Crago will provide assistance. The rest will be up to Socks' new family.

Because of Socks' partial paralysis, she has trouble using a standard litter box. She invariably tips it over. She will go on paper and requires frequent bathing in addition to her daily therapy.

"Whoever gets her is going to have to have a big heart, dedication and a lot of patience," Keearns said.

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