By Meg Edson
Beauty is inside out, and we should embrace our differences.
Those wise words came from my cat, Zeph, who is the subject of a children’s book I wrote: “Zig Zag Zeph.” Zeph has Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH), a brain condition that makes him walk in zigzags. But he is a happy cat who doesn’t let his challenges slow him down. Zeph does what other cats do but with his own quirky style. His strong spirit and amazing attitude are inspiring.
I wrote this book for two reasons.
First, I am a former special educator and worked at The Lab School in Washington, D.C. for many years. Zeph finds ways to do what he wants, and I saw that with my students. One day, watching Zeph’s determination inspired me to write a book aimed primarily at kids with differences, but actually for anyone facing challenges.
Because of his condition, Zeph can’t jump as high as other cats, but he never gave up on trying to get to the top of his cat tree. He sat proudly when he finally was able to get up there after using his front legs to climb up. His joy and perseverance is an inspiration, and my hope is that children will understand his message and enjoy that it is coming from the voice of a cat. Zeph embraces his differences and shows that it is cool to do things your own way.
My former students thrived when they were allowed to learn in their own way versus the standard/expected/traditional way. They go on to do amazing things—they’re often highly intelligent and highly talented but just need to figure out their unique ways of “climbing trees.”
My second reason for writing was to raise awareness for special cats like Zeph. Special needs cats are often overlooked in the adoption process as perfection is sought. Having two CH cats and a third with one ear has taught me the valuable lesson of how wonderful these cats are. In the past, kittens with CH were regularly euthanized, and the same with adult CH cats left at shelters. The assumption was they couldn’t thrive or were in pain. Neither is true. Zeph is a mild-to-moderate case, but even with severe cases in which cats can’t walk at all, people find ways to help their cats be happy. While the more severe cases require extra dedication, most CH cats simply take longer to walk from A to B, are messier when they eat and might need a little extra patience and attention while they figure out how to navigate the world. Through the book, my hope is to get the word out about Cerebellar Hypoplasia and how amazing these weeble-wobble cats are.
It’s all part of how our society is moving towards embracing differences in those we love, whether it be kids or animals. We don’t assume kids with challenges can’t flourish. They can and do, often in inspiring ways. It’s the same with a special needs pet, and this is what Zeph would like to get across.
Meg Edson is a former special educator who lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and band of merry cats. Zeph’s lively spirit and ability to overcome difficulties prompted her to share his story. “Zig Zag Zeph” is available to order on Amazon or zigzagzeph.net. You can follow him on Instagram @zigzagzeph.