When Kris Kaiser folds laundry, it’s often with a “wobbly cat” strapped to her chest in a comfy sling.
The Minnesota resident fosters and adopts kittens with disabilities like cerebellar hypoplasia, a developmental condition that affects motor skills, coordination and balance. CH isn’t painful or contagious, so cats can enjoy a good quality of life if their fosterers or adopters can provide an extra level of care, such as supervising them when using a cart.
“Wobbly cats are so happy,” Kaiser, 45, told TODAY. “You do really create that bond with having a little extra care involved. They can be such wonderful pets because they just have so much love to give.”
She first fostered wobbly cats in the summer of 2016, when she took in three siblings with CH: Rosie, Daisy and Calvin. They thrived in the graphic designer’s home because it’s carpeted. She soon added ramps and custom feeding stations, sort of mini-corrals with walls to keep them from falling over while eating, and pads around raised bowls to help keep them from face-planting in their meals.
“I decided to keep all three because they’d been through so much, and I figured the best way to keep them all together was just to let them stay with me,” she said. “I just fell in love with my three so much.”
Since then, she’s fostered 10 more wobbly kittens. She volunteers for Bitty Kitty Brigade, a foster-based rescue organization in Maple Grove, Minnesota, that saves neonatal orphaned kittens (newborns to 5 weeks old) in and around the Twin Cities.
Her current fosters are Natalie, who is blind and has CH, and Snapple, a tuxedo cat with limited mobility in his front legs and “basically zero balance.” Kaiser started fostering him when he was just 4 weeks old and needed to be bottle-fed every two hours.
Because he can’t have a custom orthopedic cart built until he’s done growing — his measurements change too fast — she worked with other volunteers to create a special padded, wheeled contraption to help him get around while building strength in his back legs. Most carts are built for cats with paralysis in their hind legs, so Snapple’s is a one of a kind, just like him.
“I would say he’s sparky. He’s just so curious and vibrant. And when he sees me coming or any attention’s paid to him, he gets so excited. Usually, he starts purring almost immediately,” she said. “He just needs more help from humans to go about having a fulfilled, adventurous life.”
Because he likes to stay close, Kaiser often lets Snapple (now 7 months old) look around from the comfort of a sling she wears while she works at her desk or does chores around the house.
She shares photos and progress of wobbly cats she fosters — and her own three “Tippy Tuxies” — on Instagram to help destigmatize the lives of kittens and cats with disabilities. She’s received numerous messages of support from cat lovers of all stripes.
“I get messages from people who have disabilities of their own who say how inspiring Snapple is because he just seems to go about life in such a happy way,” she said.
Social media posts can also help the kittens and cats get adopted. In fact, just this last weekend, a couple flew out from Hawaii to meet Snapple and decided to adopt him.
“He hit the jackpot,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine a better adopter for him.”
Because of her compassion and creativity in caring for cats like Snapple, Kaiser was named “AdvoCat of the Year” in Arm & Hammer Cat Litter’s 2021 Unsung Heroes Awards. The contest celebrates staff and volunteers at cat welfare organizations who go above and beyond to help overlooked felines — aka “purrfectly impurrfect cats.”
She won a $15,000 donation for the nonprofit Bitty Kitty Brigade — plus a year’s supply of Arm & Hammer cat litter for her own felines and fosters.
“I’ll definitely be able to put that to good use,” she said. “And the $15,000 donation — that’ll be amazing for Bitty Kitty Brigade so they can keep taking in kittens.”
The Arm & Hammer Feline Generous program attracted nearly 4,500 nominations from across America for the Unsung Heroes Awards this year. Erin Insinga of Delaware Valley Humane Society in Sidney, New York, won the Compassion Award, and Ashley Mazrin at Cats League & Assistance of the Western Slope in Grand Junction, Colorado, won the Creativity Award — earning $7,500 for each of their organizations (and yes, cat litter).
Rebecca Blank, group brand manager at Arm & Hammer Pet Care, said it was heartwarming to see the level of devotion shown by so many people helping shelter cats have the best lives possible before they’re adopted as pets into loving forever homes.
“It was eye-opening to see the dedication and range of compassionate and creative ways people are helping purrfectly impurrfect cats — from building structures and devices to give cats more mobility to designing events and community programming to raise awareness for adoption,” she told TODAY in an email. “The amazing work that AdvoCat of the Year Kris Kaiser and the other Unsung Heroes Awards winners are doing is incredibly inspiring and deserves to be celebrated.”