Patches of hope

COSTA MESA, CA -- Jumping up on a tiny red couch, chasing after a piece of yellow string and following his foster mom around the house, it's easy to forget that Patches, a 2-month-old kitten, lost both eyes to an infection and was nearly put to sleep by veterinarians at the Costa Mesa Animal Hospital.

''It was all very traumatic here,'' said Ginny Nelson, office manager at the animal hospital. ''We were concerned with the quality of life of the kitten, and I had a nightmare that the kitten was crying and couldn't find its food bowl or litter box and I couldn't find it either.''

Patches, a Siamese mix, his mother, Pearl, and brother, Teddy, were rescued two months ago from the Santa Ana Animal Shelter by DiAnna Pfaff-Martin, founder of the Community Animal Network and the Animal Network of Orange County. All three were taken in by Suzie Brierley, a volunteer coordinator for the Community Animal Network. Teddy was adopted, and now Patches and Pearl are looking for a quiet home they can go to together.

Brierley said she first noticed that something was wrong with Patches when her 11-year-old daughter, Amaryn, told her that one of his eyes was watering.

''He was 3 weeks old, and we took him to the vet but his eye just wasn't getting better,'' Brierley said, tossing the yellow thread to Patches, who caught it expertly. ''The infection set in, and they couldn't save the eye.''

About two weeks later, the infection spread to the other eye, and despite aggressive medication, Patches' other eye had to be removed last week.

''It was so sad, but it wasn't my decision. It was DiAnna's,'' Brierley said. ''But now that it's all over, he finds his way around and finds his food and his litter box. It's obviously a tragedy, but I am so glad his life was spared. He's going to make a great pet, especially since we will make sure he is adopted with Pearl too.''

Pfaff-Martin said that even though she also was concerned about the quality of life Patches would lead, she knew that cats can rely on their senses of smell and touch enough to take care of themselves.

''When we were talking with the animal hospital about keeping him alive, everyone was so concerned that he wouldn't lead a normal life,'' she said. ''I took votes from rescue organizations and foster moms, and we decided that we had to keep him alive. But he's going to be completely normal.''

Amaryn said Patches is normal and plays just like her own family cat, Cuddles. She said as long as both Patches and his mother are adopted by the same people, preferably an older couple who are settled and won't move again, he will be fine.

As if to prove the point, Patches jumped into Amaryn's lap to grab the yellow string, which he promptly took to his favorite spot, a tiny red doll's couch.

''He's just adorable,'' Brierley said, stroking the kitten's fur. ''It's been really rough, but life is such a beautiful thing, and Patches here is getting along just beautifully.''