Bifford is the only cat in the family who goes on trips outside of the state. He flirts with the staff at his vet's office and is the most successful mouse hunter in his family among the other cats – and two dogs – he lives with. Last year, Bifford ran for president on an adoption representation platform that specifically focused on pets with special needs.
He also has cerebellar hypoplasia – a congenital neurological disorder sometimes called "nodding cat syndrome" – in which the part of the brain that controls balance, coordination, and fine motor skills does not develop. But don't tell Bifford – he doesn't know. And it certainly wouldn't stop him.
Bifford lives in Ohio with Suzi Langer and her husband Michael. Six years ago, a friend of Suzi's, who works in cat rescue, called her and hoped she would agree to sponsor a CH cat that was not doing well in the chaos of the animal shelter.
"Only until he's found his home forever," says Suzi. But the moment she met him, Suzi says, "He stole my heart" and it wasn't long before Michael agreed that "Bifford's home was with us forever".
Living with a Swiss cat
Neither Suzi nor her husband had any experience with CH cats, so she researched the syndrome and joined online forums to connect with other parents of shaky pets. Most of the time, says Suzi, "I've learned about cats with cerebellar hypoplasia from my training at Bifford." To her surprise, caring for a cat like Bifford wasn't that much. "Imagine if someone had drunk too much and got a little tipsy," she says. He stumbles and stumbles and sometimes falls over. The only major shelter Suzi and Michael had to make for Bifford was making a sturdier litter box out of a plastic tub for their insecure cat – so he wouldn't accidentally knock it over.
When people meet Bifford, "they first feel sorry for him," says Suzi, "because they think he is suffering or because they worry that he is contagious." She will explain that her cat was born with cerebellar hypoplasia and is in no pain. Then Bifford turns on the spell and it soon becomes clear that he is a lucky cat.
No wonder that because of his oversized personality, Bifford has a social media presence with a website URL that matches his ambitions: Presidentbifford.com. Suzi created the website in 2014 after an attempted visit to a local veterinarian when staff misunderstood her reason for calling in a cat with obvious neurological problems. They thought she was there to put him to sleep. "I was horrified!" She says. When a technician misunderstood her answer as a financial problem and offered the service out of courtesy, Suzi responded with a few words she wasn't proud of and took Bifford to another vet.
After cooling off, she realized that "there are still vets and support staff who are not well informed about pets with cerebellar hypoplasia". With Bifford's help and his online presence, she is now working to raise awareness of the acceptance of kittens with special needs, which she calls "handicats".
A role model for cats
Suzi describes Bifford as a model of tenacity and resilience without his frequent falls and constant awkwardness tarnishing his sunny mood. She credits his kindness to the fact that he has learned to be fearless in the face of so many challenges. Suzi herself had to resist the urge to "wrap" her chunky kitten in bubble wrap and instead let him gain confidence by straightening up after a leak. Suzi thinks that Bifford doesn't know that he is different from the other "children".
Bifford inspired Suzi to become a veterinary technician. Her experience with him taught her to encourage her patients to use their own courage and pluck.
For Bifford, his wobble is normal and he's learned to navigate life by adapting to it. Of course, that doesn't prevent Suzi and Michael from spoiling him. The cat keeps court in his own room in her home – complete with a television that Michael Bifford bought for his birthday and that is usually tuned to Amazon Cat TV.
"There are tons of cats and dogs in shelters that you could adopt," says Suzi. "Sweet varieties of every taste." However, for a challenging black cat like Bifford, finding a home forever is more difficult. Grateful that she was given the opportunity to promote Bifford – and thus learn of its "gifts" – Suzi encourages others to take risks for cats in shelters that are disabled or appear unfriendly. Like Bifford, they might be overwhelmed by their circumstances. It may turn out that the cat that appears flawed at first glance is just the opposite: absolutely perfect.
Continue reading: 8 Political Campaign Slogans Cats Would Write