Cats and Medical School

#CatsofInstagram: A KCU-COM student’s special needs cat is an Instagram star

The first step in providing care is caring. Sam Tochtrop, OMS IV, has increased his capacity for empathy by tending to his paralyzed cat, Scooter.

Sam Tochtrop’s study buddy is a bit of a cuddler—and an Instagram phenomenon.

KCU-COM student Sam Tochtrop, OMS IV, and his rescue cat, Scooter—who happens to be paralyzed—have rose to Instagram fame, amassing more than 19,000 followers.

Balancing medical school and taking care of a special needs cat isn’t always easy, but Tochtrop finds it rewarding. He never expected Scooter to capture the hearts of so many. We talked to Tochtrop about the experience. The following is an edited Q-and-A.

How has Scooter made an impact on your life?

Sam Tochtop, OMS IV, and his cat Scooter

Before Scooter I used to hate cats, and I didn’t understand them. I didn’t have the compassion for animals I have now. I never anticipated being faced with the decision of whether to put down a paralyzed cat, and my instinct said not to. Scooter helped me to tap into a bit of compassion that I didn’t have before.

What are some of the accommodations you’ve made for Scooter?

The very first thing I did was make her ramp so she could get on my bed. The bed was the one place she wanted to be the most, and she would climb up and sometimes she couldn’t make it all the way up.

I decided she might do well with a ramp and she took extremely fast to it. I didn’t even have to prompt her.

Most cat towers are designed for cats to climb and jump up on. I felt bad because she loves to look outside but she couldn’t get up high enough, so I built her a “Scootbutt Snooze Hut,” which is a box that she can climb up and nap in. After I built this for her, she’d go up there and watch the birds and everything outside in her small world.

I’ve done a lot of other things so she can stay safe and not break everything. I’ve run all my cords along the wall and blocked out any nooks she can get into, but wouldn’t be able to get out of. The house is definitely Scoot-proofed.

A post shared by Scooter the cat (@scoot.butt) on

You’ve created a crocheted doll inspired by Scooter. How did Scootbuttons dolls come about?

I learned how to crochet in eighth grade and I liked how it was math-based compared to other arts. I just kept doing it through school. When Scooter came into my life, I thought it would be cool to make a doll inspired by her, just for fun. It was a nice creative outlet for me. After I put it on her Instagram page, I had about 10 people contact me wanting to buy one, which was never my intent.

I had enough time to make a few more dolls and improved the design. It was a nice way to de-stress and also is something that makes people happy.

A post shared by Scooter the cat (@scoot.butt) on

Are you concerned about balancing residency and providing Scooter’s care? 

I worry about that whenever I think about where I’ll train. Right now her care is pretty smooth, but I still have a lot to do. It’s only going to get harder. My main goal is to stay in the St. Louis area long-term because it’s home to me, which will also give me a network of people I can call on for help with her if I need to.

A post shared by Scooter the cat (@scoot.butt) on

How has osteopathic medical school altered the care you provide for her?

Being in medical school has taught me about the importance of preventive care. For Scooter, I try to prevent UTIs and obstacles she could get stuck behind. My care for Scooter relates to osteopathic care and how we’re taught to treat patients. You want to adapt to their specific needs. She doesn’t necessarily need all the same things another paralyzed cat might. Learning osteopathic medicine has made me think in that way.

If I wasn’t in medical school, I don’t think I would understand Scooter’s condition as well as I do now. Med school definitely helped me realize that Scooter is not going to learn to walk, and she’ll be this way for her entire life. It has changed the way I can advocate for her and how I can teach people about her condition more accurately.

Keep up with Tochtrop and Scooter on their Instagram and learn more about how their story started here.

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