HOULTON, Maine — Awhile back I wrote about a southern Aroostook celebrity — Emerson, the cat who had been abused, disfigured and abandoned before he was rescued by Heather Miller at the Houlton Humane Society.
Confined to a special custom kitty wheelchair, Emerson had become the shelter’s mascot and was spending his days greeting people at the door with his signature “head bonks.”
I caught up with Heather this week to get an update on the County’s coolest cat, and his newest BFF, Emma, a 9-week-old kitten who, like Emerson, may be disabled, but sure does not know it.
“Emma was born to a stray cat in Texas,” Miller said. “The mom must have been exposed to something because [Emma] was born with feline cerebellar hypoplasia.”
Also known as “wobbly cat syndrome,” CH is most often a result when a pregnant cat contracts feline distemper, according to the CH Cat Community website.
Due to underdevelopment of the cerebellum, which controls balance and coordination, CH cats have mild to severe physical coordination issues.
Miller has seen other cats with the disease, but said Emma’s is the most severe case she has come across.
“She has no motor skills,” she said. “She just rolls over to where she wants to go.”
Miller said the family who rescued Emma, her mom and siblings had seen an article on Emerson and the Millers’ rescue services and reached out.
“I talked to my husband and we had been looking for a friend for Emerson and figured she would be a good fit,” Miller said. “So I flew down to Texas on a Saturday and was home with Emma the next day.”
According to Miller, it was love at first sight when she introduced the kitten to Emerson.
Welcome to “Team Em & Em.”
Miller did not leave the two alone at first, choosing to instead slowly let them get acquainted, but she said it did not take long for Emerson to take on the role of big brother.
“He took to her right away,” she said. “He grooms her and they snuggle together.”
In fact, photos and video of the wobbly kitten romping or cuddling with Emerson — who already had close to 30,000 Facebook friends — are getting hits and likes galore on the social media site.
Emma’s CH is severe enough, Miller said, that she needs assistance to move around, eat and conduct other bodily functions.
For now, she is on a very special diet, wears diapers and gets around by turning herself over or accompanying Emerson in his special stroller.
“I bought two bookends and set them up side-by-side to make a ‘feeding station’ for Emma to hold her up,” Miller said. “We are sort of learning as we go how to help her and she just loves everyone [and] she really just goes with the flow.”
That is a common thread among cats with CH, according to the website, which says, “Their intelligence is normal, they feel no pain and live long and healthy lives. They tend to be more dependent on humans, and often build very strong bonds with their adoptive parents.”
Eventually, when she is bigger and has more strength, Emma will have her own wheelchair.
I can only imagine the rolling thunder that will be Team Em & Em.
I asked Heather if Emerson was going to have to share his spotlight — his story has appeared in newspapers and other media outlets around the world — but she said she doubted it.
“As cute as Emma is, Emerson will always be Emerson,” she said. “He is the one who has the story people connect with.”
Emerson’s story is one of survival and forgiveness.
“He was brought in to us last August,” Miller told me in March as Emerson wandered around checking out what was going on in the Houlton Humane Society’s reception area. “A lady found him, and when he was checked out by our vet, it was determined he had a broken neck, spinal cord damage, broken ribs and what looked to be chemical burns on his feet.”
In spite of it all, Miller said, Emerson holds no grudges and bears no ill will toward anyone.
Emma joined quite the menagerie at Miller’s Safe Haven, home to a variety of special needs animals who otherwise would have been euthanized.
In fact, on Thursday Miller was meeting with someone who could outfit her three-legged pit bull Dozer with a prosthetic leg.
“Somebody needs to help these animals,” she said. “It is what my husband and I want to do.”
For all the fans Emerson has, he also has his share of detractors, according to Miller, who said she gets hateful messages and emails from time to time.
“You know, it’s easy to make judgments behind a computer screen,” she said. “But when you meet these animals and see what they can do and the love they have, it’s not so easy to judge.”
The Millers rely on donations and spend most of their own money and time in caring for their special needs crew.
“I can’t imagine what else we’d do with our time and money,” she said. “It is totally worth it.”
And, if you doubt it, take a page from Team Em & Em: Just go with the flow.
The Houlton Humane Society gladly accepts donations mailed to P.O. Box 548, Houlton, ME 04730. Donations also can be made at email@example.com.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.