FROM JACKSONVILLE TIMES UNION..........JACKSONVILLE, FL.............
Veterinarians in two states are working to save the lives of a pair of kittens that were tortured with fireworks and set ablaze near their owner's rural South Georgia home, an attack that has horrified detectives and animal lovers.
Little Jim, an 8-month-old, gray-and-white tabby, suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body. He was in "very critical" condition Wednesday at the University of Florida Veterinary Medical Center in Gainesville, said veterinarian Amanda Hall of Baytree Animal Hospital in Valdosta.
"Little Jim needs multiple skin grafts and surgeries," Hall said.
Hall transferred the kitten to the widely respected veterinary medical center. She keeps tabs on Little Jim's condition via daily telephone calls to his doctors. They are keeping him in a medically induced coma to control the excruciating pain as he is treated, she said.
Little Jim's sister, Blackie, sustained third-degree burns on her feet, belly, face and head. Hall had to amputate a portion of Blackie's ears because the burns were so severe. Blackie continues to recover at the animal hospital, she said.
"These are two very sweet and affectionate kitties. They are dearly loved by their owner, and none of us can understand why someone would do this," Hall said.
Hall was on call Dec. 20 when the kittens' owner, Jim Ragan, who lives 5 miles away in neighboring Brooks County, rushed them to Baytree. The kittens had managed to make their way home to Ragan despite their injuries, she said.
Two days later, one of Ragan's neighbors brought in his kitten that also had been severely burned like Little Jim and Blackie. Fluffy, a 4-month-old long-haired kitten, was so badly injured that Hall had to euthanize her the following day.
Hall believes a sparkler or Roman candle was inserted in the cats' rectums and they were doused with lighter fluid and set on fire.
"It's just horrific," she said.
Ragan couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. An automated telephone message stated his voice mailbox was full and couldn't accept any messages.
Investigation under way
Sgt. Keith Anderson of the Brooks County Sheriff's Office, the lead investigator, said it was the worst animal cruelty case the Sheriff's Office has encountered in recent memory. No arrests have been made, though Anderson said police have "a couple of suspects."
Whoever did it will be charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty, each punishable by one to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine, he said.
There haven't been any prior animal cruelty cases reported in the area off Troupville Road near the Brooks-Lowndes County line, where the kittens were burned, Anderson said.
"This indicates a deeply disturbing problem that could lead to other things even worse," Anderson said. He noted animal cruelty often leads to escalating acts of violence.
A $500 reward is being offered by the Sheriff's Office and Brooks County Humane Society for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever did it, authorities said.
A strong will to live
Hall said Little Jim has "lost a lot of skin" because of the burns and needs extensive care as he recovers. Blackie should be well enough to go home next week, if her feet continue to heal, she said.
"Both these cats are such troupers. Little Jim wants to eat, and he purrs whenever they wake him up," Hall said. "Blackie purrs and wants to be loved and love on you."
Hall said she would have euthanized both if she hadn't believed that they had a strong will to live, and had a good chance at recovery.
"They're fighters and deserve a chance," she said.
"That someone could do this to innocent animals, it's just unthinkable," Parten said. "We want to do what we can to help them."
Hall hopes making the kittens' plight public will prompt tips leading to the arrest of whoever hurt them.
"They need all our help," she said.
How to help
- Anyone with information about the case is urged to call the Brooks County Sheriff's Office at (229) 263-7558. Tips also may be left online under the "Anonymous Tip Center" link on the Sheriff's Office Web site: www.brooks-county.org.