Slinky the cat overcomes neurological condition

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FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — Meet Slinky.

You just know that with a name like that, he's got to be one great guy.

He is ... and more.

"He's a hero," says Sharon Vincent, who's known Slinky for about 15 years or so.

He's always up for a conversation, even if you're not.

And if you're comfy in that big overstuffed easy chair, just imagine how much comfier he would be. Because he does.

Like your morning newspaper? So does he ... yours ... shredded to bits.

"He's just a happy-go-lucky guy who likes to demand your attention," she said. And she's right. Just try giving a split second of your attention to anyone else ... just try ... and he'll quickly bring the focus back to where it belongs ... him.

"You can never ignore him. Never," she said. "He simply won't let you."

He's one of her best friends, she said.

And it doesn't matter that he's a cat.

That makes him all the more lovable.

The handsome orange-and-white tabby has overcome more obstacles than a steeplechaser.

He was born with feline cerebellar hypoplasia, a non-progressive, non-contagious neurological condition that results in walking and balance problems.

A kitten is born with "CH" when the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills and coordination, is underdeveloped at birth.

A cerebellum's growth can be stunted by a number of factors, most commonly if the mother contracted the feline panleukopenia virus while pregnant or if there was some sort of trauma to the kitten while in the womb.

An underdeveloped cerebellum can result in underdeveloped or complicated mobility. CH cats are known for their "drunken sailor" walk, which is why they're known endearingly as "wobbly cats."

"So?" he seems to ask you. "Who wants to walk in a straight line? How boring."

"I named him Slinky because that's what he looked like the first time he tried to go down some stairs at our house," she said. "Head over heels."

He taught himself to walk by leaning up against the wall and taking off. He doesn't need to do that now, but watching him wobble and falter and fall while walking across the floor makes you hold your breath.

Watching him get up and keep on wobbling brings a sigh of relief.

Lesser creatures (like humans) might dissolve from frustration into a cursing streak that would make Donald Duck blush.

But not Slinky. For him, it's just another stroll in the park.

When he was a kitten, he had an eye removed from an infection.

Did any of this slow him down?

"No way!" Vincent said.

"He's always managed to make the best of things. He's never lost his temper."

She would put his admirable keeps-a-licking, can-do attitude to good use when he was younger by taking him to local elementary schools to show the students how animals can be sick or hurt just like people.

And, just like people, how they can overcome those problems.

"It was two-sided. I wanted to show them that there was something wrong with him but he was still friendly. And he had this serious handicap that he dealt with in his own way.

"I would tell them he's different from other cats. I explained what was wrong, how he was wobbly and had only one eye, but he was still healthy and played like other cats.

"As soon as the door of his carrier was opened in the classroom, Slinky would lunge out and flop onto the floor and stretch out so that as many of the students that wanted to pet him would be able to touch him," she said.

"I'd open that carrier and — zoom! — off he'd go to be touched and petted. He loves to have his head rubbed and back scratched."

Ever the sportster, he'd wear his dashing leather Harley cap, "with his little ears sticking through holes in the top of his hat."

Now there is a gent with catitude.

He's also a gentleman cat, too.

"Slinky has never intentionally scratched anyone on purpose but once in a while, when he gets excited and those four little legs start moving faster and faster, he just might accidentally get his claws caught on your clothing, but nothing more than that.

"Slinky truly has a magnificent heart and will share it with anyone who wants to spend a little time with him."

He shares his home with his humans, Vincent and her husband, and with 14 other rescue cats. Sadly, two passed away last month.

Vincent is heavily involved in cat rescue. She takes in the felines others dump at her doorstep, the ones that are infirm or handicapped, the ones that aren't expected to live.

That's how Slinky came into her life. Somebody'd dropped him off when he was a kitten. After dealing with that bad eye, they soon noticed he had trouble moving around. He'd stand up, fall, try to walk, fall.

Another cat, Buffy, also has feline CH, but he's not as personable as Slinky is. Very few cats are.

"Nothing stops him," Vincent said of the tabby. "He thinks he's the only normal cat around here. I love him to pieces."

It just shows you how resilient animals can be.

"They seem to have a way of dealing with anything life throws their way," she said.

You can't put much over Slinky, either, she said.

"He will watch you to see what you're doing and try to figure it out. You can see the wheels going on inside that head of his, to see what you're doing and how he can undo it."

Had he not been dropped off at her house, he probablly would have been put down.

"He's such a character," Vincent said. "He really is special. I am so proud of him."

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Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com

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