Is Wallace a Special Needs cat?
When I try to encapsulate Tabby’s Place for a grant application or efficient overview, I dutifully quote the statistic that “at any given time, 30-40% of our residents are Special Needs cats.”
But I can no more encapsulate Tabby’s Place than you can cram all the comets onto a flash drive.
There’s no efficient overview of mercy.
And “Special Needs” is a status granted more generously than we remember.
Wallace was not initially presented to us as a “Special Needs cat.” His pancreas pumps out plenty of insulin; his legs are as strong as any unicorn’s. He is young and sighted, with obedient intestines and shiny teeth. He is, in the honest poetry of Carolyn, “fifteen pounds of handsome goodness.”
He just bites people, when they are biteworthy.
This was enough to get him on the Danger Danger Danger List at a Midwest shelter. People, it turns out, do not enjoy viewing themselves as “biteworthy.” Even if your legs and ego are as strong as any unicorn’s, your shiny teeth can get you declared unworthy.
Fortunately, getting declared “unworthy” gets you into Tabby’s Place.
The circumstances that carry a cat across miles and miseries are always improbable, but Wallace’s were worthy of an original Netflix miniseries (he has requested “that guy who played Elvis” in the role of Wallace, and F. Murray Abraham as Sky). Before Tabby’s Place, there was the Midwest, but before the Midwest there was Lebanon.
The same Beirut angels who sent us Sky, Eartha, Kozmo and company sent Wallace to that Midwest shelter. This made perfect sense: Animals Lebanon saves their Special Needs cats for Tabby’s Place, sending the more straightforward sorts to other shelters.
But there are no straightforward sorts.
There are no straight paths for living creatures.
And Wallace is an exceptionally living creature.
But he is, and is not, a “Special Needs cat.”
So when the healthy hunk with the fondness for fingers (chicken, human, etc.) found himself on the wrong page of the wrong novel, international and intergalactic forces convened to rewrite his story. One eastbound flight later, he was in Suite B.
He’s been the big story ever since.
The big story is that Wallace is the biggest deal Wallace has ever encountered. Some days, he can’t quite believe his own existence. He shoves the other cats: “dude. Have you seen me? I am the big story. I am all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I am every continent. I am perfectly continent. I am all the bears in the forest. I am the mighty mountain. I am…going to bite that guy now.”
He is, frankly, irresistible. He will love you with such electricity, you will fall down giggling and rise up singing. His strength will make you feel strong. His sweetness will make you feel corny. His magic will make you feel unicorny. And then he might bite you, or bolt out into the hallway. One of the bolts that holds his enormous brain inside his head may fall out, and he may fall from sanity like a shooting star.
What he will never do, since this is Tabby’s Place, is fall from grace.
There are a million ways to tumble, and our rough and raveling world will tell you that there’s a limit to how many times love will break your fall. This is why our species tends to prefer efficient overviews, black and white stories. This is why we cram Special Needs into capsules. If the tumbling ones are over there — the 30-40% who are fragile, who are flailing, who need special accommodations — then we, the strong, can feel sturdy.
They are the pitiful and the precarious; we are the purpose-driven and prepared. They need coddling and patience; we can take a break from our victories to lighten their losses. They may be in Danger Danger Danger, but we, The Safe, can offer some comfort.
We just need to stay on the right side of Special Needs, right?
We just need to keep ourselves from falling.
But take it from Wallace, who falls in and out of love with lunacy fifty eight times an hour. Or take it from his countryman Sky, who literally fell eight stories to the ground, breaking his jaw but not his soul.
Everybody has Special Needs.
Anyone as honest as a unicorn can see: every living creature slips in and out of the Kingdom of the Falling a dozen times a day.
We may not have diabetes or intractable diarrhea.
We may not bite people or loudly sing Les Miserables songs through the hallways.
But we may not escape the classification of “Special Needs cat.”
The day will come when you have a headache so stern, you need your own child to make you a cup of tea. The hour will arrive when your heart has been so scorched, you turn up in tears to the important meeting. The moment will fall on you when your health or your strength or your story simply fails, and you will be the one in need of mercy.
The Safe is a society with zero members.
But that’s very good news for all the Special Needs cats of all species. Only those who have fallen can lift the falling.
And that, day by day, by tumble, by humble hug, by holler of hope, is what we do at Tabby’s Place. There’s no limit to the “hopeless situations” that will hurl cats into our arms, but there’s no limit to how many times love will break their fall.
It’s not efficient. It’s everything. It’s the novel we’re writing with our wobbly, improbable lives.
Tabby’s Place is a big story, but we’re in service to an even bigger story.
Just ask the big story named Wallace.
Postscript: Is there a soul alive who’s surprised how this big story ends? Wallace has been blissfully adopted. Of course he has. And so the story goes and grows…