Building humane communities one partnership at a time...
Abused, disabled cats get wheelchairs and new homes through international effort
by Lt. Col. Robert Lucius, USMC
Sometimes, we don’t have to look very far for opportunities to do good things.
Often, they simply find us. Fate does all the hard work. We just have to keep our eyes open and be willing to take risks when such moments arise. All that is required of us is compassion, courage and perhaps a bit of faith.
I call these moments “Kairos” opportunities, points in time that collide with destiny to create a singular window of wondrous opportunity. These moments cannot be measured or manufactured, only intuited. They are fleeting and must be seized when they fall upon us. Once they slip past, they are unlikely to return again.
Kairos opportunities were often personified in ancient art as a wing-footed god sporting a tuft of hair on his forehead—yet balding at the back—reminding us that once he is past us, we cannot ever grasp him again.
I am reminded of a recent Kairos opportunity. No wing-footed gods with funky hairdos here—just two cats in need of kindness and somebody to care.
The story of Moon
Hungry and exhausted, Moon was found near a Buddhist pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Though we will likely never know who or why someone would do such a thing, we do know that the young cat had been stabbed in his rear legs, and that this had resulted in irreparable damage to muscles and nerves, essentially crippling him. His back legs hung limp, forcing him to drag himself in search of food and water, or to find a place to relieve himself.
Someone living near that pagoda noticed the paralyzed cat and mentioned him on an online discussion forum, writing, "There is a cat near my house that is paralyzed and always cries out for food. If anyone can adopt him, please contact me. If no one calls, he will die for sure."
Fortunately, a young animal lover named Vi Thao Nguyen happened to see that post and immediately called. Shortly afterwards she went and rescued Moon.
Nguyen’s intent at that time was to give Moon a safe, temporary home until she could find him the perfect forever home. She tried her luck posting on her blog and several online forums she knew, but after two weeks, there had been not a single nibble.
Just as she was about to give up hope that she would ever find a home for poor Moon and that he would live with her forever, she received a call from a high school student named Linh.
At first, Nguyen was hesitant, thinking that the young girl might be acting impulsively and that it just wouldn’t work out in the long run. So she offered her a different cat, a healthy, beautiful one.
Linh said simply, “No… if nobody else wants to care for this paralyzed cat, then I will.”
Nguyen was moved by Linh’s compassion. She knew immediately that the student was the right owner for Moon and that she would become Moon’s forever friend, so she agreed and made the arrangements to bring Moon to visit.
Even though Linh lived more than 15 miles away, Nguyen made the trip personally so she could verify that the girl’s parents had also agreed to the adoption and that the home would be conducive to Moon’s particular needs.
When Nguyen arrived, she noticed the young girl feeding two hamsters while talking softly to them. She spoke with Linh’s parents and learned more about the family. Seeing the way they behaved with hamsters and their gentle nature, Nguyen felt totally secure leaving Moon with them, but she gave them one caveat: if at any time they no longer wanted Moon, they only needed to call her and she would come and get him again, no questions asked.
Nguyen went back many times in the first few months to show Linh how to care for Moon because he needed a lot of tenderness. He still was very weak and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
Nguyen also occasionally passed along some money, just to make sure Moon’s new family could afford to take him to the vet or to buy him the food and medicines he needed. Even though Linh and her parents had adopted Moon, Nguyen still saw it as an opportunity to work together to create a little good in the world.
The story of Happy
Shortly after her experience with Moon, Nguyen and some friends founded an association of volunteer animal rescuers called Yeu Dong Vat (www.yeudongvat.org), which is Vietnamese for “Animal Lovers.”
One day, a young couple was out walking when they noticed a cat dragging itself along the sidewalk using only its front legs. They asked around and learned that someone had hit the animal and that her spine had been permanently damaged, resulting in paralysis in both her rear legs.
This couple, who just happened to be YDV volunteers, scooped up the young cat, now named “Lucky”, and took her home with them. Sadly, the couple’s family would not allow them to keep Lucky at home, so they called Nguyen, who immediately set about trying to find the paralyzed cat a forever home. She used the YDV website and its Cat Lover Forum, as well as Facebook and any other means she could think of to get the word out, but without much hope for success.
She worried that her good fortune in re-homing Moon had been a unique case and that lightning would never strike twice in the same place. However, within hours of posting a notice online, two different potential adopters called Nguyen to inquire about Lucky.
The first was a university student who lived in a rented house not too far away. After a long talk, Nguyen was leaning towards letting her adopt Lucky, but felt concerned that because the student lived alone she might not have enough time to give Lucky the attention she needed. It also occurred to Nguyen that the student might be away for long periods of time, especially during school breaks and she worried about who would care for the disabled animal.
Almost as if on cue, Nguyen received a call from someone else who also lived close by, an older woman who had already taken in several other cats that had been rescued from a local market. She also wanted to adopt Lucky.
Protective as always of her charge, Nguyen also had concerns about this potential adopter. Surrounded by so many other cats in the house, would Lucky feel safe and happy, and would she get the personal attention she needed? The young couple who had rescued Lucky off the street had a good feeling about this adopter, so Nguyen relented and Lucky came home at last.
That’s when Lucky received a new name: Now she’s called “Happy.
‘Poster children’ for the value of kindness
I learned about Moon and Happy through the ongoing collaboration between the Kairos Coalition (www.kairoscoalition.org), an organization I founded, and YDV. When I saw the photos of Moon and Happy online and learned more about their suffering, it quickly became apparent that this was not just a chance to do something to make life easier for two cats, but that it was also as an opportunity for YDV and Kairos Coalition members to show what is possible when people of goodwill come together and work towards a shared vision.
I wrote Nguyen right away and proposed that we find a way to equip these two cats with customized wheelchairs. We all agreed that better mobility would enhance the quality of life for these cats, as well as improve their overall health. Moreover, Moon and Happy could become “poster children” in Vietnam, living examples that all life is precious and deserves kindness.
Back when I lived in Vietnam and worked as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the American Embassy, my wife and I rescued a cat off the streets. She too had suffered some injury that had left her with permanent nerve damage in her hindquarters and a noticeable limp. I am sure that Dewi would have met her end long ago if we had not taken her in, and I simply cannot imagine how incomplete our lives would have been over the last six years without her by our side.
I was confident that Moon and Happy also had a lot of life left in them, not to mention a lot of love to give.
Nguyen enthusiastically agreed with my proposal and she began working with YDV to raise money for the project.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, the Kairos Coalition team began working with other U.S-based YDV members, like Ms. Sophia Trinh, to identify a source for the wheelchairs. Ultimately, we settled on HandicappedPets.Com, because they offered a model (Walkin' Wheels Mini) that was well-suited for small animals weighing less than 20 pounds.
Measurements for both Moon and Happy were taken and their wheelchairs were fabricated in less than a week. Sophia handled all the arrangements to get the wheelchairs to Vietnam as quickly as possible and was able to find someone who just happened to be travelling to Ho Chi Minh City and was willing to hand-carry them for us.
Each device cost $300 and YDV raised a third of the total cost, while the Kairos Coalition covered the remainder. In less than three weeks, Nguyen had the wheelchairs in hand.
Kitties on wheels
Happy was the first to receive her new wheels. We expected that she would need several weeks to feel comfortable in the harness. Dogs are well-known to adapt quite quickly to wheelchairs, but anyone who has ever tried to put a harness and leash on a cat knows quite well that felines are an entirely different story!
To everyone’s surprise and delight, however, she almost immediately began to scurry about the room, something she had not been able to do since the brutal attack that had paralyzed her.
Moon had to wait a little longer to get his wheelchair. . The unfortunate reality is that at $300 each, this type of equipment is out of the reach of the vast majority of Vietnam’s growing legion of animal lovers, especially since the average per capita income still hovers around only $1,000 per year.
We needed to find a way to locally manufacture a cheaper alternative, so the first thing Nguyen did was take them to a friend with a background in engineering. After studying Moon’s wheelchair for a week or so, and then reviewing various other designs, a local workshop was able to confidently state that they could make their own version for less than 1.5 million VNĐ, or about $100. This will open up opportunities for animal lovers and afford second chances to many dogs, cats and other animals throughout Vietnam.
When Moon received his wheelchair he was a little lazier than Happy about the whole enterprise and had to be lured into action with a bit of fried fish, but eventually he also got the hang of it.
Moon’s owner lives next door to a park and plans to take him there every day to get exercise and to show off his new wheels!
Cats’ stories parallel experiences of humans disabled in Vietnam war
Vietnam has a lingering memory of the wars through which she suffered for nearly forty years. In a population of slightly more than eighty million, nearly five and half million are considered disabled. Many have lost limbs as a consequence of unexploded ordnance and landmines that remain hidden in the earth as a deadly legacy to future generations.
It would be easy to dismiss wheelchairs for animals as a fool’s errand and as a waste of money that could be better spent to alleviate human misery, but the value of such little victories should never be underestimated. For those of us who share a common goal of fostering a climate of concern and care for the weak, defenseless and suffering among us, such modest acts are powerful seeds representing the latent potential for compassion in us all.
I am reminded of the oft-repeated tale of the young girl throwing starfish back into the sea to save them from drying in the sun and the old man who questions her practicality. As she throws one more back into the sea, she replies with the wisdom of a child to his cynicism, “It may not matter to the world, but it certainly matters to this one.”
Likewise, the efforts to help Moon and Happy may not have mattered to the world, but they surely mattered to Moon and Happy.
It would be easy enough to be consumed with anger over the abuse that injured Moon and Happy, and we should indeed feel outraged at such heartless cruelty. But we should also be awed by the miracle that emerged from their suffering. Working together across the world, YDV volunteers, Kairos Coalition staff and other supporters and friends showed how easy it is to do something positive and hopeful. When people of good will work together towards a shared goal, we are truly greater than the sum of our parts.
In the words of French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Indeed, I believe we will.