A baby opossum in the middle of the road?! Not a far-fetched hypothesis when driving a country lane in Jacksonville, Florida, and certainly what Carmen Bernard thought she’d find when she pulled over to get a better look. To her surprise, the small creature turned out to be a kitten, “it’s poor little back legs and tail all twisted up,” Carmen recounts. “I was sure it must have been in pain so I scooped it up in a shoe box and took it home with me so I could get it to a vet.”
The vet promptly determined the kitten’s injuries weren’t due to road trauma as Carmen had thought, but rather a genetic birth defect, and gave Carmen two options—euthanize the little kitten or take her home and care for her herself.
So Carmen came home with the pitiful kitten and decided to make a Facebook page for her. “I thought I was being original and had no idea that everyone and their cousin makes pages for their pets!” she says. When she woke up the next morning to close to 400 likes, she couldn’t believe it. Carmen decided to ask the fledging online community to give the kitten a name. Pretzel, as she was christened, now has 47,000 thousand fans around the world.
It was Pretzel’s fans that suggested that Carmen take her to a specialist, so Carmen carted the kitten off to the University of Florida for an evaluation, where it was not only determined that she would require a series of reconstructive surgeries to fix her legs and prevent a lifetime of skin irritations and UTIs due to the way her legs were twisted back and around, but also that she was completely blind. The doctors gave Carmen an estimate of $10,000 for the necessary surgeries to fix Pretzel’s legs. “I thanked the doctors and laughed and cried all the way home,” Carmen says. “Who has that kind of money?”
Apparently Pretzel’s fans did. Carmen posted an update on Pretzel’s page and immediately offers of help started pouring in. “I never in a million years expected so many people to come to the aid of a cat like that. She was even on our local news broadcast one night!” Carmen says. Within no time at all, the hospital received enough donations to cover the cost and the surgeries were scheduled. Pretzel’s fans even donated gas cards to help Carmen make the two-and-a-half hour trip each way, two to three times a week. (Pretzel’s deformities were so severe that the surgeries took place in stages over the course of a few months.) Unfortunately, Pretzel had to have one leg amputated during the process but the other leg was successfully fixed and today she is happy and healthy and spoiled rotten.
Now, Carmen is focused on giving back and doing good via Pretzel’s Facebook page, spreading positivity and raising money for all kinds of different charities by having raffles and auctions or entering contests. She has raised money for all sorts of animal-related causes, as well as to help people, sending mosquito nets to tropical areas to prevent the spread of malaria and helping install wells so people in developing countries have access to clean water.
“I’ll never be able to thank all of the people enough that have helped her to get her to where she is today,” Carmen says—but she’s certainly intent on trying.
Q: Pretzel has a lot of fans (Pretzel Nation!). What is it about Pretzel that people love?
I think that they enjoy a rags-to-riches story and the positive feel of the page. I keep everything fun and uplifting.
Q: You and Pretzel are tremendous advocates for what you charmingly call “scratch-n-dent” pets (love that!). Why should people consider adopting a pet that faces a few challenges?
So many potential furry best friends will sit in a shelter and get overlooked because they are less than perfect. I think the imperfections add to their charm. The love and gratitude that they will give to you is equal or greater than what the typical pet will give and the feeling of knowing that you have saved a life of an animal gives you a special warm fuzzy feeling.
Q: What should people know before they adopt a three-legged cat? What about a blind cat?
Basically a cat is a cat. They are independent when they want to be and all up in your business at the most inconvenient times. The 4 a.m. wake up calls for food are the same. Being blind or mobility challenged doesn’t change a thing! A blind cat will still knock your glass of water off the table and a three-legged cat will still climb up the back of the furniture to sleep in their favourite window sill. When people come to my house they never know that Pretzel is blind unless I tell them and usually don’t notice the missing leg either because she gets around, up and down everything so well.
Q: What do you think people can learn from cats with disabilities?
To not take life so seriously. Whatever happens, happens, and you just make the best out of what you have to work with. The sun will still come up tomorrow and the litter box will be cleaned at the end of the day.