Sophia the Bionic Cat by Karolyn Smith

12/29/2017 | By More

On behalf of 3 Paws Up, It is my honor to share our story with the readers of the American Dyslexia Association:

My name is Karolyn Smith, I am the 2014 Veterans of the Year for the 71st District of California, Author of ‘Sophia the Bionic Cat’, Public Speaker and 3D inventor.

I am born and raised in San Diego and am the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran and the granddaughter of two WWII Veterans. For the longest time as a youth I found my calling as a velodrome cyclist and went to my first Olympic Trials at 19, but failed to make the team. A year later I would be invited to move down to Australia where I would be the only woman racing on behalf of the USA. That year abroad at such a young age gave me a lifetime of experience that would help me out later in life.

Shortly after the horrific events unfolded on September 11, 2001 I would hang up my bicycle, and at the tender age of 29, enlist in the United States Army as a Military Police Officer. As I found myself the oldest enlistee in basic training, I also found myself the most advanced which allowed me to experience leadership responsibilities and advanced training that my peers didn’t experience. I would graduate top of my class and 18 weeks later be stationed in Hauau Germany with the most historic Military Police unit in the Army, the 18th MP Brigade. Six months later, I would deploy.

In April of 2004 with the 127th Military Police Company (709th MP Bat, 18th MP Brigade), I deployed in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and would break the first of many glass ceilings in my life; I was a crew serve machine gunner. After 13 roadside bombs, mortar attacks, sniper attacks that took the life of my Team Leader….we suffered, I suffered. When we came home a year later…We had lost two.

I came home with injuries, PTS(d), spinal injuries, mild traumatic brain injury that were left untreated by the VA system because they were not use to a woman who had been in combat. After 11 years of suffering my life was saved by by a private non-profit called Operation MEND UCLA, which provided advanced medical care, including a bio-tech spinal fusion which is creating my own genetic bone back into my spine. Once that searing pain was gone, a little kitten by the name of Sophia waddled, skipped and hopped into my life…with her best friend in tow.

Sophia was an 8 day old premature kitten found abandoned in a field here in San Diego, she was found with her umbilical cord wrapped around her paw and with no mother, food or shelter found around her. Sophia was taken to the San Diego Humane Society where an amputation was performed of her right rear paw, but because she was born premature and it was evident she never received the vital mother’s milk, the amputation was proving too much and she was not recovering from the surgery. On that same day, a young male kitten was brought into the shelter as part of a litter. This young male was pulled out of his litter and placed with Sophia because the Nursery Advisory saw something in him that was unique and thought he may be able to help encourage little Sophia; he was then placed in her enclosure and something magical happened.

Leonidas snuggled up to Sophia, and never left her side for nearly a week. He could often be found cleaning her ear of her amputated side, but not her ear of her un-amputated side. Within a week, Sophia began to lift her head..and then she began to eat..then she began to crawl….Soon they would both be put up for adoption; as a bonded pair.

As I was recovering from my surgery, I saw a Facebook post from the San Diego Humane Society and there was these two faces- two little fluffy, furry faces cuddling each other and then I read the story and cried. I cried because Sophia’s story was my story, just replace the name, and I was drawn to her. I called the Humane Society and asked about adopting her and they said I would need to adopt both, and I was hooked- who would break up a sweetheart couple anyway! When I walked into the Humane Society they knew who I was as by that time, I had already been selected as the 2014 Veteran of the Year for the 71st District of California and they created the byline “Disabled Veteran adopts disabled Kitten” and in partnership with the Humane Society and Fresh Step cat litter we would create our first PSA commercial:

As my twelve year career in high threat risk mitigation (in and out of the military) would teach me, I knew that Sophia’s good leg would, at some point have to fail. While my degree’s were not in engineering, they were in Homeland Security and Risk Mitigation, what I did know is that if you use what you do know, and not focus on what you don’t know, you can apply skills and help solve any issues that come your way. I started researching companies that created prosthetics for animals and was amazed that no one had created a prosthetic for cats. So in partnership with Fablab San Diego, I created the first ever 3D printed Prototype prosthetic for cats, and started with little Sophia! The first one in history!

Every time I went to the lab, there would be kids asking about the story, which gave me the idea of writing a children’s book, as I don’t have kids of my own; my injuries prevented that gift for me. So I created “Sophia the Bionic Cat” which is now also available on Barnes and Noble (online and in stores!). This book is based on the true story of how this journey of me, Sophia and Leonidas unfolded in a way that we hope inspires children; but we took one more step. We found a person who created “open-dyslexic” font and our book, to this point, is the only true story children’s book that is written in this font. I chose this method of font because when I get tired I noticed when I am reading my brain injury can often act like its dyslexic, that can be effects of a traumatic brain injury and that is what I deal with. I wanted my book to show a range of topics but in a way that lends power to the topic instead of powerless feelings about the topic. So, while reading the book, if the reader has dyslexia, they will read the book the way I wrote it, if they don’t, they won’t notice anything other than a true story about how technology and love helps overcome.

From our book, we created 3 Paws Up, an approved 501(c)3 here in San Diego that will have ‘Ambassadors’ hand deliver our book, (and other inspirational true stories that we help other Veterans create) to children in critical care hospitals, nationwide. To find out more about our non-profit, please check out Sophia’s web-page:

I’m writing the second book in Sophia’s series as we have just partnered with the Colorado School of Mines, the number 2 school of engineering in the US as we continue to enhance Sophia’s prototype so other animals around the nation can also have a better life through what we discover. I spend my time now as a public speaker telling my story, and I am honored to be able to stand on stages around the nation and share my life, it’s a way for me to heal and a way to open the minds of those who would never consider using the ‘open-dyslexic’ font in their projects, but now we get to talk not just about me, but about all of you, and I’m honored to be able to help do that. I can’t begin to express my truest thanks to the American Dyslexia Association for accepting our project ‘Sophia the Bionic Cat’ as worthy of the ADA’s seal of approval. It’s through innovative projects and collaborative partnerships that we can create dialog that can bring the best solutions.

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