On November 20, 2013, a nice, caring couple brought a special needs kitten to their local veterinarian, Dr. Anna Parker of Southeast Veterinary Hospital in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The kitten had just shown up on the couple's property a few days earlier and they had been feeding him. They noticed the kitten had some kind of problem with its mouth so they brought him to Dr. Parker for her to examine him. It turned out that the kitten had a cleft palate which is an abnormal opening in the roof of the mouth. It is caused by the failure of the two sides of the palate (roof of the mouth) to come together and fuse during embryonic development. It results in an opening between the nasal passages and the mouth.
Various options were discussed, including surgery which would have to be performed by a specialist and would be somewhat expensive. The couple who brought the kitten in for examination had become emotionally attached to him but they could not afford such an expensive surgery. However, they wanted to find a good home for him. At that point, one of Dr. Parker's veterinary assistants asked Dr. Parker if she could make a referral to an appropriate specialist in order to get an estimate for the surgery. The veterinary assistant said she would adopt the cat and pay for the surgery as long as the cost was not astronomical. Then she asked the couple if they had seen the movie entitled 'Life of Pi' to which they both replied 'yes'. She then said, 'We'll name the kitten Richard Parker after the tiger in that movie. If this kitten has survived this long with a cleft palate, he obviously has something going for him.' (If you've seen that movie, no further explanation is necessary. If you haven't seen that movie, you need to see it because it is AWESOME.)
The referral was made to Dr. Dustin Brown of Animal Medical Center which is also located in Midwest City, Oklahoma. After an initial examination of Richard Parker, Dr. Brown subsequently agreed to perform the surgery although he was not sure whether or not he could close up the entire opening of the cleft palate. His estimate for the surgery was a few hundred dollars to operate on the cleft palate and to neuter the kitten.
Dr. Brown performed the surgery the following week with limited success. However, he remained optimistic and suggested that Richard Parker receive two laser treatments per week in order to stimulate cell growth and continued healing of the area. When the veterinary assistant picked up the kitten after surgery and prepared to pay for it, she was both shocked and very pleased to learn that Dr. Brown had waived approximately 85-90% of the cost of surgery. Since the surgery and with ongoing laser treatments, Richard Parker is doing remarkably well in spite of the fact that his cleft palate is not fully healed.
Even though Richard Parker is doing well, he will always have to be an indoor cat. Unless the ongoing laser treatments can generate complete healing of the cleft palate, he will be susceptible to respiratory infections and his lifespan will probably be less than that of a typical, healthy cat. In the meantime, he is a very good-natured and loving little kitten. He is very curious, loves to check out every little nook and cranny he comes upon, plays with cat toys as well as paper towels and toilet paper. He frequently initiates playing with the dogs and, at the end of most days, they all sleep together with their owner.
For now, this story about this special needs cat has a happy ending for Richard Parker, the veterinary assistant who adopted him, and the dogs who have accepted him into their warm and loving family.
Special thanks go out to Dr. Anna Parker and Dr. Dustin Brown, the two kind-hearted veterinarians who examined, performed surgery, and treated Richard Parker.
In addition, the point should be made that it is not customary for Dr. Brown to waive so much of his surgical fees. He did so in this case because it was for a special needs cat and all of the above occurred just before Christmas 2013.