Once Celebrated as the World's First Bionic Cat, Oscar Now Has Been Turned into a Guinea Pig with a Very Uncertain Future
"Oscar is the first creature to have a prosthesis that is osteointegrated, skin-integrated and part of a moving joint. It is a miracle of biomechanics."
-- Noel Fitzpatrick
Rudimentary prostheses, such as crutches and walking sticks, are relatively easy for humans to manipulate but completely out of the question as far as disabled cats are concerned. Consequently, veterinarians and orthopedic surgeons have turned their attention in an entirely different direction in order to restore mobility to cats that have lost the use of two or more legs.
Thanks principally to the pioneering work of neuro-orthopedic surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick's Referrals in the Eashing section of Godalming, Surrey, and Gordon Blunn of the University College London, an alternative is now available in the form of bionic leg implants. Known as intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (ITAPs), these custom-built implants are fashioned out of titanium and other metals and then inserted through holes that are drilled into cats' ankles at the point of amputation.
The glue that holds the entire process together is a naturally occurring mineral form of apatite calcium known as hydroxyapatite, which is precisely what gives bones and teeth their rigidity. Although it can be used as filler in order to replace amputated bones, in this instance its main function is to stimulate the growth of bones into the prostheses.
In short, it is designed to mimic the way in which a deer's skin and fur coalesce with its antlers. It also is necessary in order to prevent both infection and rejection which often occur when metal implants are attached directly to bones.
Once the implants take root and the cats' incisions heal, prosthetic paws made of rubber and metal are attached to the external portions of the implants. Cats then are left with bionic legs that not only will support their weight but also bend just like regular joints. They thus are able to run and even climb stairs in addition to normal walking.
The first known recipient of the revolutionary implants is a thirty-month-old black cat named Oscar from the parish of Grouville in the Bailiwick of Jersey who lost both of his rear paws in the fall of 2009 when he was run down and left for dead by a combine operator harvesting maize. (See photo above of him with his bandaged paws.)
He probably would not even be alive today if he had not been promptly discovered by an unidentified female bicyclist who took it upon herself to contact his owners, Mike Nolan and Kate Allan. "Complete panic at that point. (Oscar was) covered in blood (and) bits of flesh. It was very gruesome," Nolan later recalled for the benefit of the BBC on June 25th. (See "A Cat from Jersey Has Shot to Fame as the 'Bionic Cat'.") "It was very traumatic. I was convinced we were going to have to put him down at this point."
Fitzpatrick was equally quick in his inhumane prognosis. "We will have to put new feet on him or put him to sleep," he told the Daily Mail on June 25th. (See "Oscar the Bionic Cat: Pioneering Surgery Gives Poor Moggie (sic) Two False Back Legs.") "The procedure has never been done before."
As Fitzpatrick and Nolan are no doubt aware, cats are able to function quite well on two legs and even one of them, Callie Mae in Theodore, Alabama, does not have any legs at all. (See Cat Defender post of November 17, 2010 entitled "Penniless and Suffering from Two Broken Legs, It Looked Like Curtains for Trace Until Geoffrey Weech Rode to Her Rescue on His White Horse.")
First of all, Fitzpatrick's and Nolan's assertions that they are entitled to decide whether Oscar lives or dies is based solely upon the long ago discredited notion of might makes right and has no foundation whatsoever in either veterinary medicine or morality. If and when Oscar should decide to make his quietus he simply will stop eating and wither away; human intervention is neither needed nor warranted.
If the truth be told, Fitzpatrick and Nolan simply are too selfish and lazy to take care of and clean up after cats with special needs. As a result, they hide behind a smokescreen of pretending not to want to see them suffer when all the time they are only thinking of their own convenience. (See Cat Defender posts of October 27, 2008 and March 12, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Loved and Admired All Over the World, Feline Heroine Scarlett Is Killed Off by Her Owner after She Becomes Ill" and "Too Cheap and Lazy to Care for Him During His Final Days, Betty Currie Has Socks Killed Off and His Corpse Burned.")
They no doubt share an affinity with ninety-four-year-old English playwright and critic Eric Bentley who once opined:
"What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead."
In addition to the assistance of the bicyclist, Oscar also benefited mightily from the emergency veterinary care that he initially received from Peter Haworth of the New Era Veterinary Hospital in the parish of St. Savior who cleansed and dressed his wounds as well as put him on painkillers. He also was the individual who referred Nolan and Allan to Fitzpatrick.
Once arrangements had been made for Oscar to receive the experimental implants, he first had to be flown from Jersey to Surrey and that roundabout ordeal took eight hours. Next, his gait had to be studied and measured so that the implants would work properly.
The surgery itself took another three hours and by the time that he was introduced to the media back in June he already had worn out his initial set of prosthetic paws. (See photo above of him with his new paws.)
He supposedly is able to do nearly everything except climb trees. Of course, from now on his outdoor rambles will be supervised and playing in maize fields is strictly verboten.
"He has taken to his new feet very well," Nolan told the BBC in the article cited supra. "He is running about, walking as a cat should, eating (and) sleeping. It's phenomenal really."
If all of that is indeed true, it nevertheless is odd that he still is cooped up at Fitzpatrick's surgery all these months later. The official explanation is that Fitzpatrick wants to continue to closely monitor his progress for an unspecified period of time. C'est-à-dire, he has become Fitzpatrick's prized guinea pig.
For his part, Nolan does not have any idea when Oscar will be allowed to come home but he and Allan are planning on visiting him sometime in the near future. "He walks around beautifully on his new feet and if it wasn't (sic) for the white plastic on his feet, you would never be able to tell the difference," he told Channel Television of St. Helier on November 12th. (See "Oscar the Bionic Cat Makes Great Recovery.") "But with him not being here in Jersey, we do miss him."
Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is no doubt still crowing like a bantam rooster. "Oscar is the first creature to have a prosthesis that is osteointegrated, skin-integrated and part of a moving joint," he proudly declared to The Daily Telegraph on June 26th. (See "Oscar Becomes World's First Bionic Cat after Farm Accident.") "It's a miracle of biomechanics." (See photo above of him feeding Oscar.)
Lurking in the background is the disturbing issue of exactly what will happen to Oscar if the implants ultimately prove to be a failure. "Without this surgery he wouldn't be here," is the answer that Allan provided to the BBC. "It's as simple as that."
The best retort to that piece of sottise is that simple, uncaring minds are easily satisfied with simplistic solutions to complex moral conundrums. Furthermore, the warped reasoning that emanates from Allan, Nolan, and Fitzpatrick is truly a thing to behold. In particular, how that anyone could consider it cruel to allow a cat with only two paws to go on living while yet at the same time knowingly subject it to months of endless manipulation in Fitzpatrick's surgery is mind-boggling.
For Oscar's sake, the implants had better work if for no other reason than to put the kibosh to whatever mischief Allan, Nolan, and Fitzpatrick have up their sleeves. After all the pain and suffering that he has been put through it could be argued that no cat deserves to live any more than Oscar. If Allan and Nolan no longer want him, he should be offered to either the public or some rescue group.
Oscar's tragedy also has focused attention once again on the toll that kamikaze combine operators exact from cats at harvesttime each year. For example, in July of last year an eight-week-old black and white kitten named Howard had his front paws severed in a wheat field in Alaiedon Township, Michigan. (See photo of him immediately below.)
Like Oscar, he also was rescued by bicyclists only in his case his saviors were ten-year-old Kyle and eight-year-old Bryce Billingslea who later adopted him. Although his paws later were amputated, at last report he was getting along just fine.
Disbelievers are cordially invited to attend an open house at Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter in Mason from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on December 4th where the guests of honor will be Howard and his proud new owners. As always, it is a real pleasure to know that there are some individuals in this world who see only potential in a disabled cat as opposed to just another convenient excuse in order to get out the sodium pentobarbital. (See Cat Defender posts of August 20, 2009 and November 24, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Combine Operator Severs Howard's Front Paws and Leaves Him in a Ditch to Die but He Is Saved at the Last Minute by a Pair of Compassionate Lads" and "Howard the Combine Kitty Is Adopted by the Lads Who Saved Him from a Sure and Certain Death in a Ditch Alongside a Michigan Wheat Field.")
It would be marvelous so see Howard fitted with prosthetic paws but, considering Fitzpatrick's attitude toward cats with disabilities, he probably is better off getting by on two legs. Besides, since the implants retail for £2,000 apiece on top of Fitzpatrick's not inconsiderable fee, the point is largely moot because there is little chance that Howard's guardians ever will be able to afford the procedure.
Both of these cases additionally highlight the need for farmers to be held both criminally and civilly liable for all the cats and other animals that their combine operators maim and kill each year. That is especially the case in light of the fact that these tragedies could be easily prevented if only they would take a few minutes beforehand and clear their fields of animals.
In a world dominated by motorists and combine operators who relish killing as many cats as they can, it is comforting to see so many conscientious bicyclists, such as Elizabeth Benishin and Wayne Smith of Redwood City, going out of their way in order to rescue injured cats. (See Cat Defender post of November 13, 2010 entitled "Christopher, Who Has Persevered Through Tragedy and Given Back So Much, Is now Being Held Captive for His Valuable Blood.")
Bicycling is not only the environmentally-friendly and energy-saving way of getting around, but it saves animal lives as well. Unfortunately, it is not without its dangers in that the same individuals who run down animals and pedestrians also target bikers.
A wheelchair might have been a more realistic and less troublesome option for Oscar. That is what Louise Broomhall and her family from the rural farming community of Seadown in the district of Canterbury on the south island of New Zealand elected to do for their four-year-old, one-eyed tuxedo Blacky after he was mowed down by a hit-and-run speeder back in June. (See photo of her and Izack with Blacky immediately below.)
After Blacky crawled home veterinarians determined that he had suffered unspecified damage to his spinal cord that had robbed him of the use of his rear legs. Parroting Fitzpatrick, the attending medical men advised Broomhall to kill off Blacky.
Short on funds, she turned to the Internet for both moral and financial support. "We put messages on Trade Me and the response was fantastic," she told The Press of Christchurch via The Timaru Herald on August 19th. (See "Blacky (the Cat) Gets His Wheels.") "People told us not to put him down and we ended up with numerous offers to help out."
In fact, thirty users of the online message board chipped in NZ$300 which covered precisely half of the NZ$600 price tag on Blacky's wheelchair. Broomhall still was left with a NZ$2,000 tab to cover the removal of his left eye as well as other expenses relating to the treatment of his spinal cord injury.
"It's unbelievable how people can be so generous," she told The Press. "He (Blacky) appreciates everything you do for him."
Not unexpectedly it has taken Blacky a while to get used to his new wheels and he occasionally has a mishap but overall he is doing rather well. "His strength and determination is (sic) what's getting him through. We're very proud of how far he's come," she declared in a touching video that accompanies the article cited supra. (See "Wheel Chair (sic) Cat.") "He's just doing tremendously well."
Obviously, Broomhall is not only a very compassionate woman but also one who appreciates the value of a cat. "Certainly he means a lot to our family and this is why we love him to bits and will do anything for him and this just proves it," she added. (See photo of her giving him a hug below.)
In addition to creating bionic legs, Fitzpatrick is credited with constructing the first artificial knee for a cat. That occurred presumably sometime last year although that is only a guess owing to the English media's annoying habit of omitting dates.
The recipient was an eight-year-old brown and gray cat named Missy from Petworth in West Sussex that was run down by another hit-and-run driver and left for dead in the bushes for two days. "I heard a tiny little cry coming from the bush and I knew she was calling me," her owner, Louise Morris, told The Daily Telegraph on January 25th. (See "Missy the Cat: World's First Feline Recipient of Artificial Knee.")
Missy's injuries were so extensive that it is truly amazing that she even survived. One of her rear legs was not only broken in eight places but the skin and tendons had atrophied as a result of a constricted blood flow to that area. Even part of her skin had fallen off thus leaving the bone exposed.
A collagen mesh fashioned out of a pig's bladder was used in order to both cover the bone and stimulate the growth of tissue. The broken bones then were cobbled together with pins in what is known as a Secured Pin Intramedullary Dorsal Epoxy Resin Frame (SPIDER) until they healed.
A three-inch custom-made implant for Missy's knee on her other leg was manufactured out of stainless steel by Fitzpatrick, Blunn, and Jay Meswania of OrthoFitz Implants in Godalming, Surrey, and later secured to her thigh and shin bones with cement.
The implant consists of two parts that are hinged together so as to enable them to perform the work previously done by Missy's knee ligaments. It also has the built-in advantage that it will not dislocate. (See photo of Missy below.)
"The most difficult thing about the (two and one-half-hour) operation was miniaturizing the implants and matching the hinge motion to allow walking, running and jumping, which cats do a lot of," Fitzpatrick told The Daily Telegraph. "A human patient with a knee replacement would probably walk and maybe even run but would not rarely expect to jump."
In spite of his and his colleagues exceptional work with Missy, Fitzpatrick still was singing his old familiar ode to the Grim Reaper. "It was a case of putting Missy to sleep forever or developing an artificial knee, which had never been done before," he swore with a straight face to The Daily Telegraph. "Amputation was not an option since the other hind leg was broken in eight places."
Trace, Callie Mae, Howard, Blacky, and countless other cats are living proof of Fitzpatrick's mendacity. His way or the graveyard are far from being the only alternatives available to disabled cats.
As an orthopedic surgeon with little or no regard for either cats or, more importantly, the sanctity of life Fitzpatrick certainly qualifies as a queer duck to say the least. Of course, by framing the debate in such a lopsided fashion he is able to steer more moola to his surgery.
Heads are easily turned by scientific and technological breakthroughs but very few of them are either truly useful or desirable. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, took the luster off of both science and the arts way back in 1750 in his essay entitled Discours sur les sciences et les arts.
Native American author Vine Deloria Jr. put his finger on the crux of the matter when he once observed: "Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent." That assessment most definitely fits Fitzpatrick and all others who think like him to a tee.
To put it another way, the stupendous advances made in science and technology over the past two centuries have not been matched by compensatory strides in moral consciousness. Just as capitalism, organized religion, and mass education are largely scams concocted by a few privileged elites in order to subjugate and exploit the animals, Mother Earth, and hoi polloi, so too are science and technology.
Today, however, "there is no one left to ask them (the masses) a single troublesome question. Such as: where have you been and where are you going and is it worthwhile?" John D. MacDonald observed in his 1964 novel The Quick Red Fox. "They are the undisturbed."
Finally, the debilitating injuries suffered by Blacky and Missy to their rear quarters leave little doubt that they were run down on purpose and no matter how feverishly Fitzpatrick and his colleagues labor they never will be able to keep pace with the demand for artificial limbs unless vehicular assaults on cats and other animals are criminalized. There is not any known connection but David Cretney of the House of Keys on the isle of Mann in the Irish Sea last month introduced a bill that would require motorists who run down cats to report such incidents to the police.
"I saw a cat run over recently and the driver only had to take his foot off the accelerator and he didn't...so I think there are people who would always do that," Sue Critchley of the Mann Cat Sanctuary told the BBC on October 29th. (See "Manx Cats 'Missed' by Collision Laws.") "I'm sure it would maybe stop a few people when they strike a cat, that they say, 'Well, it's now against the law so I'd better stop'."
That is not much but it is at least a start on the long road to affording protection to cats against the machinations of motorists. Perhaps some day the world will no longer have much of a need for Fitzpatrick and his bionic implants and, as an added bonus, he will be forced to keep his nickel and dime moralizing closeted, which is precisely where it belongs.
Photos: BBC (Oscar), Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter (Howard), John Bisset of The Timaru Herald (Blacky and Broomhall), and Barcroft of The Daily Telegraph (Missy).