Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

Smoochie Paraplegic Cat: When Disability Tropes Take on a Life of Their Own

On Love Meow: A Blog for Ultimate Cat Lovers, there is an article with the following title:

Smoochie Paraplegic Cat Doesn’t Let Her Disability Define Her

I kid you not. That’s a real headline. And it’s not on a parody site. (I checked.) Love Meow is just a site with lots of cute pictures and videos of cats.

I love cats. I love pictures and videos of cats. I have even been known to share them on Facebook with appropriate expressions of squeeee! and OMG THIS IS SO CUTE. And Smoochie is freakin’ adorable. Oh dear God. That face! I love her wheels. I love that her owners cared enough to get her some wheels. And I love that she has a happy life.

Now that we’ve established that I’m not some cat-hating curmudgeon bent on ruining everyone’s fun little cat-fest, let’s get to the disability rhetoric, because it’s just out of control. Along with the title, the first paragraph is almost enough for a bingo card:

Smoochie the cat doesn’t let her disability stop her. Being paraplegic, she doesn’t want anyone to pity her. With love and a pair of wheels, Smoochie now lives a happy life that inspires many.

So let’s see: so far, we have the person-first (cat-first?) trope (“doesn’t let her disability define her”), the overcoming trope (“doesn’t let her disability stop her”), the pity trope (couched as a plea to not pity little Smoochie), and the inspiration trope (“lives a happy life that inspires many”).

Already, I’m confused. First of all, I didn’t realize that cats struggle with identity issues. I mean, do cats argue about whether disability “defines” them? I think not. I’m also not sure that cats know that disability is supposed to stop them, being as they’re not all caught up in the discourse that passes for reality amongst human beings. I’m also not sure that cats know what pity is.

Yes, yes, I know that people project things onto animals all the time. But this is really over the top. It’s like someone took all the disability tropes in the world and plastered them on cute little Smoochie. These tropes are repeated throughout the article:

Cats with disabilities are no different from cats without disabilities: “The pure joy she shows when they put her in the wheelchair is as if she never had the disability. She runs around and plays just like any other kitties.”

See the cat, not the disability: “Smoochie never lets her disability define her.”

Cats with disabilities, and their heroic rescuers, should have their own Inspiring After-School Special: “Her humans believed in her and gave her a second chance at life, and now she’s happy and healthy as the mascot at West Side Cats, inspiring many with her story.”

Supercrip cats know how to get it done: “Smoochie is paraplegic but she doesn’t let it stop her.”

Disabled cats are inspirational: “Smoochie is now the mascot at West Side Cats, inspiring many with her story.”

It’s fascinating the ways in which these tropes amble around the culture, attaching themselves to any creature that is disabled. If anyone doubts that disability is a social construct, I give you Exhibit A: The Case of Smoochie the Cat.

Read it and weep.

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


  1. 9/4/2013 | 9:03 pm Permalink

    It goes to show how much “inspiration porn” is NOT actually about the person it’s ostensibly about … it still works if there’s no human being there at all!!

    I’m not so “up” on the right jargon or theory, but I think inspiration porn is actually about the reader in the same way that regular pornography is really all about the viewer and not the actors involved. There’s probably a snappy word for this but I don’t know it!

  2. 9/5/2013 | 5:04 am Permalink

    All it needs is for Smoochie to be running a marathon or climbing a mountain…

  3. 9/5/2013 | 2:07 pm Permalink



    Love this!!!

  4. 9/23/2013 | 5:48 pm Permalink

    Yeah…. NO!!! I swear if I see one more Dancing with the Stars and have MS and it’s all OKAY I am going to plotz.

    No mention of the crippling fatigue, the tremors, the parasthesias, the “hug” or anything else. Just the mere mention of he might need to “rest” a bit more. Pbbbbttttt…..

    How about trying to make a living or chasing children (something I don’t have to do but I hear it’s not easy) and running errands when your vision is variable (no I don’t drive anymore) or any of the real things we all do with our various full time illness issues.

    I’m getting more than tired of the 1% with (insert disease) defining it in the media. That’s not how it is.

  5. 4/1/2014 | 4:46 pm Permalink

    LoveMeow strikes again. They are now sharing the “inspirational” story of Mercury, the Kitten with No Arms.

    And, again, Mercury is absolutely adorable! I would so hug and play with that little kitten!

    But the accompanying text looks almost as if they lifted and recycled whole cloth everything they said about Smoochie.