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[Guest Post] Life and Adventures With Differently Abled Cats by Krista Rutanen

We're excited to have cat mom Krista Rutanen to three sweet cats named Khalil, Kira, and Iliad come on the blog to share a bit about what it's like to explore with cats that are differently abled. They can be found on Instagram as @melenkira. It's clear that these cats are living their best lives ever and aren't held back from exploring! Read on to hear all about them.

Kira, Kahlil and Iliad are three adventure cats originally from Cyprus, a country of 1.2 million people and 1.5 million homeless cats, but now live in Kerava, Finland. Kira was born October 2018 (2 years old), Kahlil in August 2019 (1 year old), and Iliad in June, 2019 making him 5 months old. Kira and Kahlil were born blind and Iliad was run over by a bicycle, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Their origin as colony cats is what they all have in common. In feral cat populations different kinds of diseases spread around from one cat to another and issues with eyesight are a common problem among both adult cats and their offspring. Kira's mother was likely sick with herpes or something similar which can result in kittens born without eyesight. Kahlil was born with bilateral microphthalmia, a congenital or developmental eye anomaly characterized by small eyes, likely due to a virus infection during fetal development. Iliad was just unlucky enough to be in the middle of a bike lane at the wrong time and had his spine fractured in two places at the age of four weeks. I adopted all three privately and flew them home from Cyprus to Finland myself.

Who's Who?

Kira (pictured below) is a sassy girl, but also the sweetest there is. She's a free spirit and so independent that she barely lets me help her with anything.

Kahlil (pictured below) is a quiet boy, my poet, but also cheeky and mischievous and unlike Kira, asks and accepts my help all the time. Both are stubborn like nothing I've encountered before and always want to participate in absolutely everything I do from eating to showering.

Iliad (pictured above) is our baby cougar who will hiss at everyone when he first meets them but will make friends fast as well. Head on, he seems to think. He fears absolutely nothing and won't let anything get in his way.

Adventuring Outdoors

Out of my six cats Kira, Kahlil and Iliad are the ones who go adventuring outdoors while the 12 to 17 year-old senior folk prefer our catio. When adopting Kira it was clear to me from the beginning that if this cat would want it, she would get to feel the moss of a forest, the sand of a beach and grass of a meadow underneath her paws, the wind in her hair, the rain and sunshine on her face, hear the birds, squirrels and bumblebees around her, smell the animals that have walked her path before her and taste the grass where it grows. So when she arrived from +33°C in Cyprus to +5°C and a fast approaching winter in Finland we started going outside with her as soon as possible. After a week with us Kira spent her first 15 minutes at the side of a forest, mostly just sitting on my lap listening to her new surroundings and that is where we got started. For a long time Kira's favourite place was our closest lakeside where she got to run on sand with no obstacles in her way, but when the fearless kitten phase was over she started to fear the sound of strangers to a degree that forced us to move our adventures to locations where we would get to be by ourselves. When Kahlil arrived, the weather was warmer and his first winter somewhat nonexistent so we managed to adventure through it with almost no interruptions. If it was raining, we were exploring pet stores or the hallways of flower shops, but like her big sister Kahlil started to hesitate when hearing strangers around the time of his first birthday. As I write this Iliad is only five months old and has been home his first few weeks, so he's still very much in the middle of that kitten phase and exploring everything without fear. He will adventure for about half an hour at a time and then park his wheels in his carrier, wide enough to fit his dangly legs, and nap through the remaining time Kira and Kahlil still want to stay outside.

The Differences

When it comes to being outdoors with a blind cat instead of a sighted one, sound and how we prepare for, work with, and react to it is probably the biggest difference. When considering a new place to go to one has to think of the sounds of that environment beforehand and also learn to tolerate their own voice. Neither of them try to escape even when spooked. Both Kira and Kahlil venture out by following the sound of my steps and voice, so when we're out I make sure they can hear me in one or more ways at all times. This is easier when there's another person to bring along so I can talk to them instead and have another pair of eyes to observe our surroundings too in case of something unexpected.

Other differences are a part of the personality of each cat and partly about Kira mapping and remembering familiar places whereas Kahlil will go towards things that interest him without caution instead. So Kahlil loves trees, water and unobstructed places like beaches. Kira prefers thickets, overgrown forests, and especially loves the backyard of our apartment complex in the middle of summer nights. I'm still getting to know Iliad and as he explores I learn more of him every time. So far he hasn't shown any preferences with places we go to and even though it would make sense for him to like open spaces where his wheels don't get stuck, he's very much a fan of undergrowth and piles of rocks for example and will go at them with no fear of tumbling over. The biggest difference between our blind cats and a paralyzed one so far has been his speed and the overall pace of our adventures. Gone are the days of peaceful ones on which no one speeds around recklessly thinking nothing can stop them.

In a Familiar Setting

At home, the blindness of Kira and Kahlil means keeping all surfaces free of clutter, keeping furniture in their places and opening doors only slightly. Opening the doors completely would mess up the map these two have in their heads.. In a familiar, unchanging place you can't even tell that they're blind, unless Kahlil is in a hurry to get to his food. Along the run towards food, some door frames might get bumped. For Iliad our clutter-free home works as well, but in addition to that I make sure he has enough space to maneuver with his wheels. We're also about to move to a bigger house which I will equip with ramps to make it easier for him to reach every nook and cranny, including our own yard to be.

Future Plans

So far we've been adventuring only in the forests and lakesides close to home but we do have plans of taking our DIY camper van out on the road with the cats and heading out to locations further away, like Lapland, when it's acceptable to do so again (as we are in the middle of travel restrictions due to COVID). Camping and stand up paddle boarding was a first this summer with Kira and Kahlil. This winter will be Iliad's first and next summer he'll be joining us camping as well. We are hoping to go cycling or skateboarding too, since he can see unlike the rest. I would love to travel abroad with all of them or some one day as well but that will be all up to them, as all our adventuring is in its core.

We are so happy that we got to help others hear about Kira, Khalil, and Iliad's story. Feel free to reach out to @melenkira on Instagram if you have any questions about life and adventures with differently abled cats!


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