A Children’s Story About Spina Bifida

Here for your enjoyment is a short story written for children.  It was inspired by our animals, especially a small tuxedo cat with spina bifida.

 The Crippled Cat

by Rocky

As told by Reynold J. Conger

A timid meow caught Bart’s attention. The large black dog ran to the gate. Rocky, the long haired dachshund, was only a few steps behind. Again there was a meow from the other side of the gate. Bart looked over the gate. There cowered a black and white kitten. The kitten said, “Oh, I was hoping there would be a cat.” The kitten backed cautiously away from the gate.

Bart said, “If you’d like, I will call Juan. Hey Juan, there’s a visitor for you at the gate.”

You know Juan?” asked the kitten.

By now Rocky was looking through a crack in the gate. He said, “Sure, he’s our cat.”

Hearing a second dog, the kitten jumped back another step and said, “Ah, if there are two of you, I had better be on my way.”

Juan, the cat, came running down the driveway. He casually jumped to the top of the wall. Peering down he said, “Oh, it’s only you, Squirt. When Bart said I had a visitor I thought it might be your sister.”

Just then a stray dog walked around the corner. The kitten said, “Help, here comes the bully.”

Juan said, “Jump up on the wall.”

The kitten cried, “You know I can’t jump that high.”

Rocky said, “Go to the end of the gate. There’s a gap about six inches wide. That’s not wide enough for me to squeeze through, but you should be small enough to get in.”

But there’s two of you dogs in there,” said the kitten.

It’s cool, Squirt, they’re tame dogs. They won’t hurt you,” said Juan.

 The stray barked and ran directly toward the kitten. She scrambled quickly through the gap to safety.

Rocky said gruffly to the stray, “I don’t think you’re welcome here. Go.”

The stray gave a rude answer. Bart growled. The stray dog walked away.

 Rocky asked the kitten, “Did you say you are lost?”

 I’ve never been out of the backyard before, but today I thought it was time to be brave, so I walked around to the front of the house. The gate was open so I went to see what was on the other side. You know, just out of curiosity. That big dog over there was just outside our gate. He grabbed me by the tail and threw me. I ran. He chased me until a girl dog caught his attention. Now I’m lost. I have no idea where I am,” said the kitten.

 Juan jumped down off of the wall and said, “She lives two blocks that way. I visit her sister often.”

 My but you’re an awfully little kitten to be out on the street alone where a dog can catch you,” said Rocky.

 The kitten arched her back and hissed, “I’m not a kitten. My name is Ashley and I am two years old. That makes me a full grown cat.” Ashley hissed again as though her hiss proved that she was an adult cat.

 Tiffany and I call her Squirt because she is only half as big as Tiffany, and she can’t walk right,” said Juan.

 Ashley walked over to Juan with a strange hopping way of walking. She hissed and cuffed Juan. Then she said, “You and Tiffany shouldn’t pick on me. My name is Ashley, and I can too walk. I just don’t walk the way you do.”

 And who is Tiffany?” asked Bart politely.

 Tiffany is my sister,” replied Ashley.

 Juan purred, “Tiffany is a beautiful calico cat. She has perfect black and orange markings on a white coat.”

 Is that why we see so little of you these days? You have a girlfriend,” said Rocky.

 I enjoy Tiffany’s company,” said Juan and set about grooming himself.

 Ashley moved next to Rocky and began rubbing against him.

 Rocky asked, “How is it that you are only half as big as your sister?”

 As a kitten, I was very sick. I didn’t eat much and didn’t grow much. I probably wouldn’t have survived if my humans hadn’t taken such good care of me,” answered Ashley.

Rocky looked closely at Ashley and said, “Does that also explain why you don’t walk normally and why you couldn’t jump onto the wall to escape the dog? I’ve seen other cats jump up onto that wall.”

Ashley said, “No, that is all explained by the fact that I am a special cat.”

 You’re not special. You’re just a runt, Squirt.” said Juan.

 Bart said sternly, “Juan, it is rude to call an animal a runt, and it’s not polite to call her Squirt if she prefers to be called Ashley.”

A crippled little runt like her needs a name like Squirt,” said Juan as he jumped back on the fence where he would be safe from either dog should one became angry.

 Ashley yelled, “I am not cripple. I am not a runt. I can do almost everything Tiffany can do.”

 Except walk and run normally. Except jump as high. Except catch birds,” taunted Juan.

 Of course not, I’m special,” replied Ashley.

 Who told you that you are special?” asked Rocky.

 Misty did.. Misty is my little girl. We’re both special.”

 Rocky nodded his head wisely and asked, “And just what makes you or Misty special? Isn’t Tiffany also special?”

 No, Tiffany is just a normal cat. Sure, she’s big and strong and beautiful, but she’s just a normal cat. I’m not quite like a other cats, and Misty isn’t like most little girls. We were both born with a condition that kept our backbones from growing right.”

 Rocky said, “Sweetheart left one of her medical books out last night. I read the section about babies born without normal back bones.”

 Yeah, didn’t she comment that she is giving physical therapy to a little boy who has something wrong with the bone that would be his tail if he had a tail?” commented Bart.

 You usually don’t pay such good attention,” commented Juan.

 Bart said, “I just thought it was funny thinking what humans would look like if they did have tails.”

 Rocky squinted at the sun and said, “Well, the book says they have the same bone that we have at the end of our tail, they just don’t have the bones in between that make up a tail.

Anyway, the book said that sometimes the spine doesn’t form properly in a baby. It causes a problem called spina bifida1.”

That’s what they call it. That’s what they say about Misty. She has a little hole in her back. For some reason, that keeps her from walking,” said Ashley.

Rocky calmly said, “Nerve damage. Without the bone for protection, nerves can get damaged.”

Nerves?” asked Bart.

Nerves make your muscles move. Nerves are like control wires. If a nerve is damaged, the muscle doesn’t work,” said Rocky patiently.

Bart said, “You’re so smart.”

No, but it helps to read,” replied Rocky.

Ashley said, “I have the same specialty. One time when I was at the vet, he ran his fingers up and down my backbone and said, ‘What do you know, a spina bifida cat.’ He said I’m missing an entire bone in my spine. That has something to do with me having been so sick as a kitten and has something to do with why my back legs wobble.”

Walk a few steps,” said Rocky.

Ashley hopped three steps.

Rocky said, “Can you take a step one back foot at a time?”

Yes, but I have trouble keeping my balance,” said Ashley as she bravely took a step like a cat should walk. Her hips wobbled dangerously, and before she could take a second step, she fell over sideways.

Juan said, “The same thing always happens when she runs around a corner.”

Nerve damage,” said Rocky. “There are muscles on the sides of our legs that keep us from falling sideways. Yours don’t seem to work very well.”

Bart said, “Ashley, you don’t walk and run the way other cats do, but I think you’re a swell cat. I’m so glad you stopped in to visit us today.”

Really,” said Ashley. “Most people and animals treat me rudely.”

Some dogs chase cats, but Bart and I have both lived with cats all of lives. We like cats,” said Rocky. After a pause he looked at Juan and said, “Of course there is one cat who is so irritating that I’m tempted to make an exception.”

And you know what Sweetheart would do to you if you so much as pulled out a mouthful of my fur,” said Juan.

Rocky said, “You don’t have to be so rude, especially to a member of your type. Ashley is a lovely cat.”

But she’s not normal. She walks funny,” Juan protested.

 Ashley hissed at Juan and said, “At least I can walk and run and jump even if I can’t jump as high as you and Tiffany do. Poor Misty can’t walk at all. She spends all of her time in a wheelchair2. I do all I can to help make Misty happy.”

 You’re right about that,” admitted Juan. “I’ve seen you in action. Tiffany is a little jealous about how much Misty loves you.”

 Ashley said, “Misty loves us both.”

Yes, but she loves you more. I’m sorry about how I pick on you. You are a special cat. God must have sent a special cat to help care for a special little girl,” said Juan and he started to groom her coat.

 That’s sweet of you to say, Juan, but how am I going to get home?” asked Ashley and she started to cry.

 Simply walk home,” said Bart.

 Bart, she’s lost and afraid a stray dog will chase her again,” said Rocky. “Juan knows where she lives. We’ll simply have to take her home.”

 Oh no. If that stray is on the street, she’s on her own,” said Juan.

 Rocky said, “We’ll go as a group. Bart can handle the stray, can’t you?”

 Uh, sure, but don’t you think we can talk things out with him like gentlemen?” asked Bart.

 Juan said, “Bart, are you afraid of a dog half your size?”

 No, I just don’t like to fight unless I have to,” replied Bart.

 Rocky said, “Give me a couple of minutes to dig out. Then let’s go.”

 Minutes later Rocky wiggled through a hole under the fence. Bart jumped over the gate. Juan jumped down from the wall, and Ashley wiggled through the gap between the gate and the wall. They began marching down the street with Juan in the lead. Before long, however, Ashley began to tire. Bart lay down and Rocky encouraged Ashley to climb on Bart’s back.

 No sooner were they on their way again than the stray walked around the corner.

 Bart said, “Howdy, Stranger. What are you doing in these parts?”

 What’s it to you?” the stray asked.

 Bart bared his fangs and quietly growled, “I’m trying to keep bad dogs out of this neighborhood.”

 Just passing through,” said the stray nervously. Then he quickly trotted away.

 As they approached the gate of the house where Ashley lives, they heard a girl crying, “Mommy, I saw Ashley run down the driveway so I came after her, but before I could get to her, a mean dog grabbed her.”

 There, there. We’ll look for her. The dog may have dropped her. She may just be hiding,” the mother’s voice said soothingly.

 But I already searched the street all the way to the corner. There’s no sign of Ashley. She’s gone. She’s probably dead.”

 When the animals marched through the open gate, the mother said, “Was it a big black dog that attacked Ashley?”

 No, the mean dog was brown,” said Misty without looking up. “Sort of medium size. I think he was a pit bull.”

 Misty, look at that. Ashley is riding on that big black dog.”

 Ashley jumped from Bart’s back into the lap of a little girl in a wheelchair.

 Misty, the girl in the wheelchair, hugged the little cat and said, “Oh, Ashley. I thought you were gone. What would I have done without you?”

 Ashley purred and said, “Thank you.” to Bart and Rocky.

 Juan strolled over to a calico cat who stood next to the wheelchair and said, “Hi, Tiffany. I know Misty loves Ashley best, but I’m here to make sure you don’t get lonesome.”

 Rocky and Bart wagged their tails in joy and walked back down the street to their own home.

 The End

1 A medical condition where one or more bones at the base of the spine are not properly formed.

2  A wheelchair is a chair with wheels. It is usually used by people who can not walk. Most wheelchairs have small wheels in the font and large wheels in the back. In most cases, the person riding in the wheelchair can move the chair by turning the large wheels with their hands.


About Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. Now writing fiction. His books are CHASED ACROSS AUSTRALIA, MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR and REDUCING MEDICAL COSTS (AT THE COST OF HEALTH). He has also started a series of novelas called THE RICHARD TRACY SERIES. Residence: New Mexico, USA Hobbies: gardening, animals and running. website www.ReynoldConger.com
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