HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Tiny Tim, the paralyzed kitten saved from a euthanasia list by an Horry County non-profit animal shelter, who became somewhat of an Internet sensation after WMBF News aired his story in November, was given a wheelchair designed just for him by a local tech group. In January, volunteers learned the kitten would have to overcome another hurdle as a result of his condition: leg amputation.
"No one realized when they first got him that he was paralyzed from his hips down," Cathy Salmons, a volunteer for Friends of HCACC explained of the kitten, aptly named Tiny Tim.
The tiny, eight-to-ten day old baby Tiny Tim, his siblings, and mother were saved from the euthanasia list at the Horry County Animal Care Center by Friends of the HCACC around the beginning of October.
"When you see a little animal like him who has a special need, sometimes people have a misconception about that," Salmons said. "This is a happy little kitten. He deserves every chance to live."
It wasn't long before his disability was discovered. "So they knew from the beginning he would need a little wheelchair," Salmons explained.
"Even though there is existing pet wheelchairs out there that you can buy on Amazon even, there was nothing that you could scale down this small," according to Joe Stewart, with the local learning collective SubProto . "This was a unique situation."
So SubProto stepped in to help without being asked. The tech group donated time and energy to make a prototype with a 3-D printer before finishing the wheelchair using laser printers.
Tiny Tim got the wheels by January, though it was taking some getting-used-to for the little guy.
"Lack of upper body strength, lack of back strength," Stewart said of Tiny Tim's restrictions. "And so he's going to have to do some work. He's going to basically be in physical therapy to strengthen those muscles to make the best use of the wheelchair."
When he wants to chase something, like yarn or that elusive red light that all cats despise, he shows he knows how to use it, but soon tires out. Once he builds the muscle up, "He's going to be able to grow really strong and be able to just run around with this wheelchair, he might even be faster than the other cats," Stewart said.
And while Tiny Tim won't be so tiny for long, Stewart said he will always have a wheelchair that fits him, they designed it to grow with him. "All we have to do is go back to the CAD program, scale it up to match his new size, and then we can print out a new prototype or we can just go straight to the laser cutter and print out a new template, take that plastic out, heat bend it, and we've got a new, finished product basically within an hour," Stewart explained.
"He loves to play," Salmons said. "He plays with his siblings continuously."
While a long future awaits, his struggle is far from over.
"We don't put people down if they go blind, and we certainly don't put people down if they're paralyzed," Salmons said. "Now, this little guy is just beginning to live."
The kitten traveled to Charleston in January to see a neurologist about his condition. The neurologist checked the extent of Tiny Tim's paralysis to learn more. His foster said Tiny Tim's left leg showed some muscle tone and strength but he will never be able to walk on it, because the way it is growing, and he is paralyzed with no feeling in the lower half of his body.
The doctor found the kitten's back right leg has no muscle tone, and recommended amputation of the leg, or Tim will start to chew on it and there is a serious risk of infection.
"They have decided the best thing for him in the long run is to amputate his right leg," Salmons said in January. The surgery was set for March 7.
The doctor also confirmed Tiny Tim is incontinent, meaning he will wear a diaper the rest of his life. The biggest risk the kitten faces, the doctor said, is a urinary tract infection. While he is able to go to the bathroom, his foster and the person who eventually adopts him will have to check his bladder and express any urine. As far as neutering Tiny Tim, there is a risk to his health. Because he is incontinent, there is risk of an infection at the surgical site.
Tiny Tim's story traveled far and wide. "Through his foster mother posting information on Facebook, he has so much response," Salmons said.
"People that have seen the story and just reached out to us over Facebook and said 'wow this is really great,' and they're following us, they're following Tiny Tim's Facebook page," Stewart agreed. "It's been amazing. It's been from all over."
Stewart also said some of the people who reached out after learning about Tiny Tim's story had paralyzed kittens who could use a wheelchair similar to his. SubProto was able to help, and wants to continue doing so. "We want to turn that back around and provide those design files freely available to anybody else anywhere around the country that might be looking to build something like this for a cat that has special needs in their area." They contacted groups local to the people looking for help which have similar capabilities as SubProto to make it happen.
Thanks to his story, and the people who have donated to his cause, some of Tiny Tim's medical bills have been paid for. "Still have quite a bit left to meet that goal," Salmons continued. "But we've raised quite a bit"
SubProto's progress in designing and creating the wheelchair on their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/subproto/.
After the surgery in March, Tiny Tim will finally be ready for adoption, and already a few people have shown interest. Salmons said whoever does eventually end up adopting the kitten must know it will be a full-time job taking care of him, as he wears a diaper. Any person interested in adopting the little guy should visit the Friends of HCACC website.