There is no way to put this lightly: There are people in this world who would deliberately set a five-week-old kitten on fire. It is the kind of monstrous act that never gets easier to accept and never becomes less horrifying.
No one is more familiar with the extent of human cruelty than Justin, an adorable, wide-eyed tuxedo kitten who was doused with accelerant before being torched. A stranger put out the fire with her jacket and called the Pennsylvania SPCA, which sent an animal control officer to pick up the kitten.
At a little more than a month old, Justin was completely helpless, barely old enough to eat on his own. More than 70 percent of his tiny body was covered with second and third degree burns — including his ears, which were nearly burned off.
According to Annie Trinkle, executive director of the Animal Alliance of New Jersey, the nonprofit rescue in Belle Mead that cared for Justin, such cases of extreme, mind-bending cruelty are more common than anyone would want to believe. In fact, Animal Alliance has taken in four deliberately burned animals in the last year alone.
"Considering that we are a tiny microcosm of the aggregate total of shelters and rescues in the U.S., you know that there are so many more intentional burnings that are happening all over," Trinkle says. "It is extremely disturbing to know that so many depraved individuals are out there, who derive a sick and perverse pleasure from torturing innocent and defenseless animals. I wish I could say that Justin was an isolated case of animal cruelty, but sadly that is not the case."
Despite his extensive injuries, Justin was one of the lucky ones — but it didn’t seem that way at first. When the kitten arrived at Animal Alliance, it was immediately apparent that his road to recovery would be long and painful. He was so weak and his condition so severe that he could not even stand on his own. To overcome his injuries, he would require advanced, round-the-clock critical care.
Fortunately, the skilled staff at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, New Jersey, was up to the task. For the next five weeks, Justin lived at the hospital, where he received daily treatments including topical and intravenous medications for his wounds. According to Trinkle, the wounds also needed to be surgically debrided frequently. This procedure removes dead and infected tissue to promote healing and required Justin to be anesthetized. But Justin’s will to live never faltered.
"From day one, Justin showed us that he wanted to live," Trinkle says. "He fought long and hard to survive. Every day was a battle. He suffered enormous pain but never gave up. Additionally, despite the fact that it was an evil human who did this to him, who caused his suffering, from the minute we received him, he was a sweet, loving and affectionate little boy."
To raise funds and awareness for his recovery, Animal Alliance shared Justin’s photos on their Facebook page and accepted donations via PayPal. The cat quickly became an Internet celebri-kitty, with each of his pictures averaging hundreds of shares. Now four-and-a-half months old, Justin has his very own Facebook page with more than 13,000 fans from all over the world. He has even appeared on The View, where he bonded on set with the popular talk show’s hosts.
"I LOVE Whoopi Goldberg," reads a post from Justin’s Facebook on the day the show was taped. "She cuddled with me backstage. I could have stayed in her arms all day."
Even better than his unexpected celebrity: After spending six weeks in a loving foster home, Justin has found his forever family. In mid-July, Justin was adopted by Kelly Peters, who continues to update his Facebook page with photos that show the cat thriving in his new home. His fluffy black fur blooms like a crown around his adorably stubby ears, and his eyes are perpetually wide with curiosity. He lounges on pillows and hangs out with his feline siblings. He is obviously happy. Trinkle says his personality has been feisty and upbeat from day one.
"Without sounding macabre, Justin is a little fireball, so to speak," Trinkle says. "He is lively, super active, playful, adventurous, affectionate, and very trusting of humans."
As Justin grows and his recovery continues, his bravery provides encouragement for others who are struggling. "Never be ashamed of a scar," reads one image on Facebook, which depicts side-by-side snapshots of Justin before, covered in burns, and after, fluffy, bright-eyed, and happy. "It simply means you are stronger than whoever tried to hurt you."
All photos courtesy of Justin’s Facebook page, Justin, Fire Survivor.
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