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February 1, 2010

Blind, Traumatized Cat Bounces Back

Coordinated rescue gave Sami and others an 11th life

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Sami was terrified, blind in both eyes, and living in a filthy cage. Betty Francis

  • Now Sami enjoys basking in warm sunlight. Betty Francis

by Ariana Huemer

Sami's owner was desperate. Recently diagnosed with cancer, she knew she had to find a home for her pet. When she found Tenth Life Sanctuary near La Belle, Florida, she gratefully handed over her beloved, healthy cat and a $20,000 donation.

If this seems too good to be true, it is. When rescuers found Sami at the so-called sanctuary several years later, she was living in a small cage amid filth.

She cowered and hissed at everyone who tried to help her. She was also completely blind, and her eyes were so infected that they had to be removed surgically.

As sad as Sami's tale sounds, this is not a story about despair. It's a story about a collaboration that turned a bad situation into a triumphant one.

The power of persuasion

Sami was one of 600 cats removed from Tenth Life Sanctuary last November. After receiving reports including videotapes allegedly showing sick and dying cats, the La Belle animal control officers knew they needed help—not only in convincing the sanctuary's owner to turn over his hundreds of cats, but also in re-homing them.

It was clearly time for teamwork, and that's where The HSUS stepped in. Along with the ASPCA and Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, The HSUS joined the La Belle Animal Control in an unannounced inspection of the Tenth Life facility. The team braced themselves for the worst.

"The cats urgently needed help," says The HSUS' Adam Parascandola. "But one thing we're grateful for is that, after a frank conversation with the sanctuary's owner, he elected to sign the cats over to us. Without that quick collaboration, I have no doubt we would have lost many more cats."

No criminal charges have been filed against the owner to date.

Combining forces

With animal shelters everywhere teeming with homeless animals, finding spots for 400 felines seemed an impossible task.

But rescue workers in this case weren't about to give up. Pooling the resources of The HSUS, the Bay Area Disaster Animal Response Team, IDEXX Laboratories, PetSmart Charities, the ASPCA, and a number of private donors, they reached out to reputable sanctuaries, shelters, and foster homes.

One by one, each cat was examined, issued a health certificate, and readied for transport. Volunteers were on hand with cat carriers, transportation vehicles, and a dauntless drive to help.

Every adoptable cat eventually found a home, thanks to the admirable way the rescuing organizations—particularly the Bay Area DART—cooperated on behalf of these animals.

Working with Sami

For almost everyone involved, the cat who stands out the most is Sami. Missing both her eyes and terrified of people, she seemed like a lost cause, with wounds both physical and psychological.

Many people might have written Sami off as a sad casualty, but not these rescuers. Determined to bring Sami back to the world, her adoptive caretaker crafted a loving rehabilitation scheme—with phenomenal results.

"Sami 'sees' through sound," explained Betty Francis, describing her system with Sami. "The food bowl has a click-click. Scratching the sheets on the top of my bed means she can jump up. A swish across the floor means it's okay to run and jump on a toy."

"Blunt taps on the carpet say, 'Come here and be petted'...and then she literally chases me around the room to be petted."

With more needs than the average feline, Sami's rehabilitation is ongoing. But this resilient cat's progress makes the massive rescue project well worth the efforts of so many.

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States.

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