When Lucky, a handsome ginger tabby, was found wandering the streets of a northern Virginia suburb, the cat’s injuries were shocking. The fur and skin on the back of his head and neck were gone, replaced by raw, red wounds. Thinking his wounds looked like road rash, the people who found Lucky called animal control to pick him up.
But Lucky didn’t have any broken bones or other injuries consistent with a car accident. When he was examined by a vet, the truth of what had happened was far more shocking than anyone had guessed. In an extreme act of human cruelty, the cat had been doused with acid, with severe burns covering the crown of his head, his neck, and his right ear and shoulder. He had been living on the street, so his wounds were also covered with dirt.
The extent of human brutality can be both shocking and confounding, but animals’ amazing capacity to overcome this senseless cruelty wins every time. Despite all he had endured, Lucky arrived at the local animal shelter full of purrs.
Because of the cat’s infectious attitude, a shelter worker sent Lucky’s picture to Kelly Shoup, a volunteer at Homeless Animals Rescue Team (HART), a no-kill animal rescue group in Fairfax, Virginia. If Lucky could get into the HART network, he would have a better chance at being fostered and eventually finding a forever home.
"She said, ‘I know it looks bad, but he’s purring the whole time we’re treating him, and he’s kneading the towel with his paws,’" Shoup says of the message she received that day. "He was super sweet — as badly injured as he was, he wasn’t lashing out at them, growling, or hissing — none of that."
Naturally, Shoup agreed to take Lucky under her wing. For the first two and a half months, the cat, who was estimated to be five to seven years old, was under 24-hour veterinary care. Initially, he had a surgical procedure to clean his wound, and he was also neutered.
"He was probably hurting in a lot of places," Shoup says.
Later, Lucky required a third surgery to relieve painful skin contractions as his burns healed. Due to the tightening of the skin around his face, his eyelids appear pulled back in photographs. To relieve this tension, small cuts were made on the back of his neck and then allowed to heal gradually on their own. Shoup suspects Lucky will eventually require a fourth surgery to remove scar tissue on his neck. The cat has also undergone cold laser procedures to promote hair growth.
According to Shoup, raising the funds for Lucky’s care is the "craziest part of his story." HART sent an email blast to supporters describing Lucky’s condition and asking for donations for his care. Shoup also created a Facebook page for Lucky, which she still regularly maintains.
The story quickly caught on, with popular special-needs cats like Bagheera the Diabetic Cat and Saltwater Taffy sharing Lucky’s story on their own Facebook pages. Within 24 hours, the campaign had raised more than $3,000, and within a week, more than $16,000 in donations had come in from all over the world.
"Donations were coming from Dubai, Australia, the UK, all these crazy places that HART doesn’t really expect to reach," Shoup says. "We don’t transport our dogs and cats outside the area, so having this kind of international attention has really blown our minds. It’s indescribable."
Many of Lucky’s donations came from individuals who were touched by his story. One woman, a burn survivor, even offered words of encouragement for the cat’s recovery.
"She said, ‘I know what Lucky is going through. I suffered second and third degree burns myself. Please tell him that it will get better — I know,’" Shoup says.
With all of this attention, when Lucky was finally released from veterinary care, Shoup did not have any trouble finding him a foster home.
"When he was ready to be released, the lady who picked him up from the shelter to take him to the vet pretty much begged to take him home and care for him," Shoup says. "She has five cats of her own, and Lucky would be the king of the castle."
Since going to live at his foster home, Shoup says that Lucky’s "whole world has opened up." He has the run of the house (when he wants it), and he is learning "to be a cat and do cat things."
"He gets to interact with the other cats, and he loves the other cats," Shoup says. "Any person or cat is a friend of his."
Soon Lucky will be ready to start meeting potential forever families in the Fairfax area. Until then, Shoup is keeping Lucky’s followers up to date on his progress via Facebook. She’s also using Lucky’s growing audience to advocate for cats in need the way so many others did for Lucky when he first came into HART’s care.
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