Sweet ministrations get Gizmo back in the pink

Gizmo the cat with volunteer Mel Knapp, who recently won the Fantastic Foster Family award at the...
Gizmo the cat with volunteer Mel Knapp, who recently won the Fantastic Foster Family award at the 2024 SPCA Nestle Purina National Volunteer Awards. Photo: Peter McIntosh
He walks like a slightly cross-eyed drunken sailor, "he growls when he doesn’t get what he wants" and as soon as he has his front paws in the kitty litter, he thinks he is in the right place and goes for it all over the laundry floor.

Gizmo has some unique quirks, but that is to be expected when you are a cat born with severe brain damage.

When part-time vet nurse Mel Knapp first met Gizmo, he was only a few weeks old, and vets diagnosed him with cerebellar hypoplasia and other forms of brain damage.

"The vets didn’t really even examine him because he was lying sideways in his cage, and they said he was going to die — don’t worry about him," Ms Knapp said.

But when she got her hands on him, she put a small drop of manuka honey in his mouth and he ate it.

"I was like, he’s not at death’s door.

"So I managed him back to health and I ended up keeping him."

Despite his condition, he has a happy life with Ms Knapp.

He is one of about 450 injured and unwell kittens she has volunteered to take in over the past decade, nursing them back to health, socialising them and making them ready for adoption.

"My specialty is the tiny tots — the ones that are really sick, or their mum has died and they need to be hand-reared."

During the kitten season, her Taieri house could be filled with up to 16 cats at any one time, she said.

In most cases, she was successful and the cats could go up for adoption to other families.

But in Gizmo’s case, and those of the seven other cats she had at her house, they could not be socialised enough to be adopted, she said.

"Most of them have had something wrong with them during their lives, but I’ve kept them because I didn’t think anybody else would want to adopt them.

"They’re my babies. They reduce my stress and they just love you unconditionally."

For her selfless and generous support of animal welfare, Ms Knapp recently won the Fantastic Foster Family award in the 2024 SPCA Nestle Purina National Volunteer Awards.

Fellow Dunedin volunteer and University of Otago student Kytti Kane, 23, won the Young Volunteer award.

They are among thousands of volunteers from around the country who sustain the work of the SPCA.

SPCA chief executive officer Todd Westwood said the work they did was huge and the SPCA owed "an enormous debt of gratitude" to all its volunteers.

"Speaking with these generous people, you can hear their commitment to something bigger than themselves, their belief in community and their singular dedication to animal welfare.

"They are vital to us," he said.

The other winners in the SPCA Nestle Purina National Volunteer Awards were: Felicity Bowden, of Māngere (Devoted Volunteer award); Janet Levy, of Wellington (Going the Extra Mile award); Outstanding Op-shop Team award (Cambridge); and Sensational Centre Team award (Christchurch).