Energetic and curious, Snapple the cat scrambles around the floor with the aid of a little wheeled cart — sometimes charging straight into walls and other obstacles but then, undaunted, backing up and shooting off in a different direction.
The fact that Snapple, an 8-month-old tuxedo (black and white) cat, has a disability doesn’t keep him from having fun.
“He’s got a sparkling personality,” said Kris Kaiser of Plymouth, who provides foster care for Snapple.
Snapple has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia — also known as “wobbly cat syndrome” — a congenital condition in kittens that affects the area of the brain that controls motor movement, balance and coordination. It also makes their whiskers curly and their heads wobbly, but is not progressive or painful.
In December, Kaiser was chosen AdvoCat of the Year, an award from the Feline Generous program sponsored by Arm & Hammer. She was one of almost 4,500 nominees — “staff and volunteers at animal shelters across the country who go above and beyond to care for purrfectly impurrfect cats,” the company said.
Snapple’s front legs aren’t strong enough to allow him to sit, so he spends much of the time lying on his side. But in the cart Kaiser bought for him, Snapple can rest his front legs on top while his back legs touch the floor, allowing him to run around.
The first time he tried it, “he was strapped in and he was off,” Kaiser said, as if the cat were thinking, “Finally, I can go places!'”
Snapple’s wobbling head can also make it difficult to eat, so Kaiser provided a special raised food bowl.
The person chosen as AdvoCat, the top among the program’s Unsung Hero awards, offers specialized comfort for shelter cats, builds their confidence through playtime, and shows affection through social interaction and “care for a medically complex feline above what is typically expected,” according to Arm & Hammer.
The award comes with a $15,000 donation to the animal shelter where Snapple came from, the Bitty Kitty Brigade in Maple Grove. A nonprofit volunteer organization, Bitty Kitty serves orphaned, neonatal kittens up to 5 weeks old that are not yet eating on their own.
Kaiser has another foster cat, as well as three cats as permanent adoptees. All of them have wobbly cat syndrome which, in addition to hampering their mobility, causes their heads to bob, particularly when they’re excited, see something interesting or are trying to figure something out.
“There’ll be a bird or squirrel outside and everybody will be at the window with their heads bobbing,” said Kaiser.
Snapple, who came to Kaiser as a “tiny bottle baby,” loves to play with toys, tossing them up and grabbing them in his mouth. She conveniently works in marketing for Yeowww Catnip, a catnip-toy manufacturer in Roseville.
Snapple is being adopted by Ed and Gina Yamamoto of Honolulu, who will fly here in February or March to pick him up. The couple decided to foster cats after their two previous cats died in 2014 and 2017. Their first foster, Moana, was a “foster fail” — a negative sounding phrase that actually means they loved her enough to adopt her themselves.
The couple decided to get a companion for Moana, so they started following cat Instagram accounts. They saw Snapple on either Kaiser’s account, @tippietuxies, which features all of her cats, or on Snapple’s own account, @tuxonwheels.
“Ed texted me the link to a video (of Snapple) and the text underneath was, ‘I wanna adopt him,'” Gina said.
She visited Snapple and spent time with him. “He fell asleep in my lap for a bit … we had calm moments.”
In the past, cats with wobbly cat syndrome would probably have been euthanized. But partly thanks to social media, “people are beginning to understand cats like these can have a good life,” Kaiser said.
Snapple was lucky to get foster care from Kaiser, Gina said. “She does a really good job.”
But it goes both ways. Kaiser sometimes wonders if endearment might be another marker of wobbly cat syndrome.
“My cats, I swear, they’re the sweetest, most loving cats,” she said. “Any extra effort you have to put in, you get back in love and affection.”