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April 20, 2012

Abused cat’s saga draws international attention

Once starving, tortured and homeless, Snow now on road to recovery

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

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Abused cat’s saga draws international attention
Laura Wilhelm-Bruzek, founder of Paws for the Cause Feral Cat Rescue, cuddles Snow, a starving, abused cat discovered near 15 Mile and Moravian in Sterling Heights.

Like clockwork, two homeless cats visit Angelika Baker’s house near 15 Mile and Moravian daily to dine on food placed near the garage for them.

So when her motion-sensor light went off the night of April 4, Baker expected one of her regulars. But when she peered outside, the animal she saw at the food bowls was in such deplorable shape that its species wasn’t instantly identifiable.

Spotting just the fluffy white torso, “I said, ‘Oh, we have a new friend,’” she recalled. “Then I saw the neck and head, and I said to (husband, Tony), ‘What the heck is that? Is that a cat?’”

It was indeed a cat: A bloody cat with a skinned head who was shedding dead skin and dried pus onto their driveway.

There was a thick black stripe around its neck that Baker originally though was a belt, but was later identified as necrotic flesh, the aftermath of a burn. String tied tightly around one paw was causing him to limp.

“His whole body was shaking, because that’s how fast he was eating,” said Baker, who called the scene “horrifying.” “I was just shaking myself, because I could not believe my eyes.”

Fearful that other agencies may put the cat down, the Bakers summoned Laura Wilhelm-Bruzek, founder of Paws for the Cause Feral Cat Rescue, who was able to capture the animal via a live trap April 5 and whisk him off for emergency care.

The veterinarian determined someone had poured chemicals, possibly acid, on the cat, which appears to be a Turkish angora or Oriental longhair, said Wilhelm-Bruzek.

To compound the situation, the cat tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus, which Wilhelm-Bruzek likened to AIDS in humans. Some FIV-positive cats live a full, symptom-free life; others have an abbreviated lifespan or struggle with illness, she said.

The vet advised euthanization, as “his odds of being able to heal fully from this, because of the FIV, are low,” said Wilhelm-Bruzek. “(But) I couldn’t do it at that point, because he was so hungry, and I didn’t have the heart to put an animal down that was cold and starving.”

What a difference time and a little TLC make: A few weeks later, the cat, christened “Snow,” is on the road to recovery — and has become an international sensation of sorts.

Wilhelm-Bruzek said she isn’t quite sure how Snow’s story gained so much traction. She’d posted about the cat on Paws for the Cause’s website and Facebook page, but suddenly, one morning, she was deluged with messages — so many that she had to establish a separate Facebook page dedicated exclusively to Snow’s plight.

She’s since appeared with Snow on a TV newscast and received messages and contributions from around the globe, including Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Japan, as well as throughout the United States.

“We have definitely received donations from every single state in the country,” said Wilhelm-Bruzek. “He’s just become like an overnight celebrity. Everybody’s in love with him.”

“He’s a superstar now,” gushed Baker. “And it’s good, because he deserves the best. There’s so much positive energy coming from him.”

As of mid-April, Wilhelm-Bruzek had received donations in excess of $7,600, which she anticipates will more than cover Snow’s veterinary costs.

He’s on high doses of antibiotics, steroids and a special burn cream. Because of the damage to his neck and the back of his head, he’ll need a skin graft or “flap surgery,” which uses skin from the back to cover the wound, said Wilhelm-Bruzek.

He’ll also need surgery around his eyes and forehead, where the acid-burned skin has scarred and tightened, pulling his eyes upward and making it difficult for him to fully close them, she said.

Wilhelm-Bruzek said she volunteered to return excess funds to donors once final bills come in, but so far, everyone has urged her to keep the money and apply it to future rescue projects.

“They’re so into this; it’s crazy,” she marveled. “It’s wonderful, because this is what we love to do.”

She said she also plans to funnel some of the money into a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Snow’s injuries, but so far, she hasn’t received a single tip.

“If they can do that to an animal,” she said of the unknown culprit, “they can do it to a person.”

Wilhelm-Bruzek said she’s been rescuing animals her entire life, but formally established Paws for the Cause about five years ago. The organization has been an official 501(c)(3) for about a year.

It began with a focus on feral cats — education and trap-neuter-release operations — all over the area, from Chesterfield and Ira townships to Lapeer and even Oakland County. But then she began branching out, finding abuse cases and taking in cats that were abandoned due to the economy, badly injured, at risk of being euthanized, etc.

Healthy cats are distributed among volunteer foster homes throughout the area; those that are injured or require additional attention head to Wilhelm-Bruzek’s Chesterfield home.

Though she acknowledged that it’s difficult to let go of an animal she’s nursed back to health, she intends to adopt Snow out once his condition allows. She said she’ll accept applications and conduct home checks to “place him with a perfect family.”

Baker longs to adopt Snow herself, but with his FIV-compromised immune system, she fears he’d be incompatible with the two rough-and-tumble cats she already owns.

“I’m just so glad he finally found love, and someone to take care of him,” she said.

Despite his horrific experience, Snow “doesn’t act like this is affecting him at all,” said Wilhelm-Bruzek. “He absolutely loves people. He wants attention all the time. I think that’s what’s gotten so many people to fall in love with him.

“He’s full of life; he’s fighting every day,” she added. “It’s been amazing.”

For more information on Snow, visit www.facebook.com/TheStoryofSnow. For more information on Paws for the Cause, visit www.pawsforthecauseferalcatrescue.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.

Very impressive article! Thank you for helping to get Snow's story out there!