UPTOWN — Stockings the kitten's hind legs were turned inward in a 'W' position, and hyperextended so far backward that it looked like his feet were put on the wrong way.
"Normally at most traditional shelters a cat like Stockings would be the first to get put down," said Tree House Humane Society spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter.
But the kitten, born with severe birth defects and taken in by Tree House in October when he was 4 weeks old, soon won hearts at the no-kill animal shelter at 1212 W. Carmen Ave.
"We were immediately drawn in by Stockings' incredible personality and gentle nature. He has a way of looking up at you, with intense blue eyes, that is infectious," the shelter said on its website of the kitten, which had been living with a hoarder.
Tree House helped Stockings overcome his physical shortcomings, helped him find a home by December and then put his compelling story on the internet, where it's gone viral this week and been picked up by numerous media outlets.
In addition to his leg problems, Stockings also suffered from an upper respiratory disease when he got to Tree House, but the shelter said it was able to treat him and stabilize his health. After that, Tree House turned its attention to his malformed legs.
Stockings scooted about on his hind legs to get around, something that would have eventually caused sores and wounds that could have led to infections, the shelter said.
Tree House's director of veterinary services, Dr. Lynda Ewald, consulted with an orthopedic specialists and came up with the idea to perform a surgery on Stockings that would cut the tendons in his legs to they could be straightened.
A splint would help his legs heal in a straightened position, and his "feet would be fused in proper alignment," Tree House said.
The shelter was unsure if Stockings would walk again in the aftermath of the two October surgeries, one on his left hind leg and one on his right.
He suffered swelling and soreness after the procedures. But fortunately, Tree House was able to place him in foster care with veterinary technician Priscilla Cherry, who wasn't immediately reachable for comment Friday.
Stockings benefited from being able to recover in the comfort of a home setting, with around-the-clock care from an expert. Cherry eventually decided to become his permanent owner after she grew fond of the kitten.
Stockings required two additional surgeries to his right leg, but Tree House said he can walk on all fours now and his progress "has been truly remarkable."
The kitten lacks the same mobility and range of motion other cats possess. But he has developed "incredible dexterity in his front legs which helps compensate for the limitations," in his hind quarters.
"He wobbles and topples as he works to navigate but is quickly learning how to adjust to his new legs," Tree House said. "Seemingly, he has no fear as he leaps toward a sparkle toy and tosses about tirelessly."
The shelter has been surprised at the huge media response to Stockings' story. Tree House comes face-to-cafe with compelling tales such as his "day in, day out," Schlueter said.
The shelter often posts on its website sad but heartwarming stories of cats who have been adopted from the shelter — and stories about other cats, many of them suffering from health conditions or recovering from abuse, who need new homes.
The goal, Schlueter said, "isn't always just to shock people, it's to let them know about the need in the community."
Many people who don't work in the animal welfare field don't know "the extent of need out there," all the stray, sick and abused animals who need care but are often euthanized instead.
"We hope our passion breeds compassion," she said.