Cats with Disabilities: Small Adjustments Earn Big Rewards

He didn’t exactly campaign for the job, but Rufus could be the poster cat for felines successfully living with disabilities.

The beautiful, slender approximately six-year-old tabby – who is deaf – offers a persuasive example of why would-be adopters should remain open to all possibilities. What’s more, Rufus is proof positive that disabilities shouldn’t be confused with shortcomings. Also, that every potential challenge has an intuitive solution.


What we know of Rufus’ story began in August 2012, when former foster mom Ruth Botelho first received the cat. He was found wandering a hallway in an apartment building by a tenant unable to locate his owner.

Botelho soon realized Rufus was profoundly deaf. “During routine fire-alarm testing in my apartment building, when a very loud alarm goes on for several minutes, Rufus would sleep, completely unaware of the sound,” she says.  “Yet apart from his deafness, he was normal in every other way:  friendly, lively and affectionate.  Socialization was never an issue.” And he loved to play impromptu games of hide-and-seek.

Still, Botelho had to determine novel ways of communicating with the cat. She consulted a friend with some experience in the area, and devised some simple tactics including pressing her mouth into the back of his neck and talking to him so that he picked up positive, friendly vibrations; tapping the surface he was sleeping on to rouse him without startling him and placing food beneath his nose to alert him to dinnertime.

“And I never crept up on him from behind, but positioned myself where he could see me before I touched him. In the nine months that Rufus was with me,” Botelho says, “there was a succession of four other foster cats – two males and two females – and he was friendly with all of them.”

Botelho says Rufus was a flat-out joy – a sentiment echoed by his forever mom, Alison Colpitts, who adopted the cat in May 2013.

“I had wanted to adopt a cat that not everyone would adopt – either an elderly cat or a cat with some sort of illness or disability,” Colpitts offers. “I love tabby cats and thought Rufus was extremely handsome so I knew I wanted him right away. When I met him at his foster mom’s place I was so taken by his personality. He seemed like such a loving, personable cat.”

Colpitts, too, devised alternative ways of communicating with the cat though she confesses “I still talk to him even though he can’t hear me. I’ll often hold him against my chest and hum a song hoping that he can feel some vibrations. He knows when I’m around and can sense my presence,” she says, adding that Rufus benefits from abundant physical contact, possibly because of his deafness.

In talking to both foster mom and forever mom, it’s clear what’s most compelling about Rufus is not his deafness but his Rufus-ness and his uniquely feline idiosyncrasies.

“His cutest personality quirk is his love of sleeping under blankets. He’ll often curl up by my feet under a blanket on the couch and he’ll sleep there for hours,” Colpitts says. “He’ll also snuggle right up with me in bed, too. It’s almost painful how adorable he looks all tucked in.

“My friends often comment that he’s the sweetest, friendliest cat they know. He greets strangers by running to them and purring as if he’s instantly made a new best friend. Honestly,” she says, “I could talk about Rufus all day.”


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