Girl Meets Her Match in a Cat with a Cleft Lip and Palate
Sergeant Pepper the cat is little Ivy’s perfect best friend.
Caitlin + Sergeant Pepper
Caitlin’s first child, Ivy, was born with a cleft lip and palate. When she adopted Sergeant Pepper, a cat born with the same condition, Caitlin knew her daughter would never feel alone.
"I know Ivy is still too young to understand now that she was born differently, and I will always teach and encourage her to embrace her differences. Pepper has reassured us that Ivy never needs to feel alone in her journey."
To fully understand how much Sergeant Pepper has positively impacted our family, you’ll need to have a little background about us first. When we were 20 weeks pregnant with our first child, we found out that she would be born with a cleft lip and possibly a cleft palate, too. At first, it was a scary and alienating situation to find ourselves in. Despite clefts being one of the most common birth defects, we didn’t have any personal connections to people who had been in our shoes. Our worries faded as we became more educated and prepared to welcome our daughter into the world.
Fast forward to this past January, Ivy, our almost 18-month-old little girl, had been through successful lip and palate repair surgeries. She was also obsessed with anything and everything cat-related, making meowing noises at any cat (real or not) that she saw. Our adult cat had been great with Ivy, but we had been on the fence about bringing a kitten into our family to hopefully match her playfulness and enthusiasm.
We were undecided until one day, one of my best friends shared Sergeant Pepper’s post with me on Instagram. I knew instantly that he belonged with our family. Pepper had been born with a cleft lip and palate just like our baby girl! My husband is also a huge Beatles fan, so with a name like Sergeant Pepper, I knew he could never say no. Upon meeting virtually with Pepper’s foster mom, we discovered that he and Ivy had very similar background stories as snuggly, bottle-fed, food-sneezing babies who had successful palate repair surgeries. It just felt like fate.
I know Ivy is still too young to understand now that she was born differently, and I will always teach and encourage her to embrace her differences. However, I know it will be important for her someday to know she is not alone. Pepper has reassured us that Ivy never needs to feel alone in her journey. She might never have a classmate, teammate, or friend who was also born with a cleft, but she will have Pepper. I hope that their bond inspires confidence within her to be proud of exactly who she is.
Until then, I will enjoy watching Ivy and Pepper bond over their favorite hobbies. These include belly rubs, playing with wand toys, climbing on furniture, causing mischief, and most importantly, snuggling. Mom and Dad have also gotten plenty of love and laughs from the little guy. He is the true definition of a lap cat and will flop on top of us any time and any place. Pepper particularly enjoyed my lap while I was teaching virtually from home in the fall, and made his presence known to my students due to his extremely loud purring. Those purrs have also become my 6 a.m. wake-up call, but I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Each year, Petco Love Stories invites adopters to share how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Caitlin won Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a 2021 Love Stories award.