Combine Operator Severs Howard's Front Paws and Leaves Him in a Ditch to Die but He Is Saved at the Last Minute by a Pair of Compassionate Lads
"Just the incredible spirit of this kitten to be surviving out there for a week. I have no idea how he survived."
-- Jamie McAloon Lampman of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter
Ten-week-old Howard was playing in a wheat field in Alaiedon Township, Michigan, one day in late July when he was run over by the operator of a harvest combine. His front paws were severed and left dangling at the ends of his tiny legs. He also sustained an unspecified injury to one of his rear legs.
Despite the horrific pain and loss of blood, he was able to somehow crawl into a ditch alongside the field. He remained there for at least a week suspended between life and death and with nothing to either eat or drink while his badly mangled flesh began to rot away and the maggots attacked him like a horde of famished locusts.
Most likely that ditch would have become his final resting place as so many others like it have come to serve countless other feline victims of ailurophobic motorists and farm equipment operators. The fact that he did not join that lengthy list of unrecorded fatalities is attributable to the better late than never intervention on July 30th of ten-year-old Kyle Billingslea and his eight-year-old brother, Bryce, who heard his plaintive cries for help as they were riding their bicycles down Willoughby Road.
While it would have been as easy as pie for them to have either turned away or, tant pis, made sport of Howard's misery, that is not what they did. Fighting off the natural revulsion that they surely must have felt at the sight of the maggots and the god-awful smell emanating from his body, they instead picked him up and carried him to a nearby farmhouse.
The unidentified landlord then summoned Ingham County Animal Control Officer Gary Ireland who came and collected the slowly dying kitten. Although he doubted that Howard would make it through the night, he nevertheless compassionately transferred him to the nearby Lansing Veterinary Medical Center.
Against all odds, Howard was still alive the next morning. Unfortunately, it was not possible to save his injured paws and they had to be surgically removed.
A certain amount of infected tissue on his legs also had to be excised but veterinarians were able to save the appendages themselves. The trick now is going to be getting new tissue to grow on his stumps.
He underwent a second surgery recently and is said to be doing well but he is still going to need several more operations plus prosthetics in ordered to replace his severed paws. The good news, however, is that he is not only going to live but should be able to lead a relatively normal life.
Otherwise, he is reportedly eating well and gaining strength daily. He is even able to sit up and is attempting to stand. (See photos above and below.)
It also helps that he has Dr. Mark Williamson in his corner. "We're doing what we can to get him through this," he pledged to the Lansing State Journal on August 1st. (See "Kitten Still Struggling to Survive after Losing Front Paws.") "He's a trouper. He purrs when we're in there with him." (See bottom photo of him and Howard.)
"It's as if he knows people are pulling for him and he doesn't want to let them down," Jamie McAloon Lampman of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter (ICACS) in nearby Mason stated recently on the department's web site. "He has endured pain most other cats would not have survived, yet he purrs at the touch of a human hand and seems to have the heart of not a kitten, but a lion."
That certainly would seem to be the case considering all that he has been forced to endure. For in addition to the pain and other deprivations, he had to live with the constant fear that his presence would be detected by a predator and without either his claws or the use of his legs he would not have had a prayer in Hell of defending himself. Sleep would have been pretty much impossible and the psychological horrors occasioned by the hopelessness of his predicament must have been nearly unbearable.
"Just the incredible spirit of this kitten to be surviving out there for a week," Lampman marveled to the Lansing State Journal in the article cited supra. "I have no idea how he survived."
Cats never cease to amaze by how often they are able to find raisons d'etre in situations where most men either would have given up altogether or taken the Roman way out of their miseries. This is particularly true of cats that have been trapped inside shipping crates and thus forced to endure lengthy sea voyages. (See Cat Defender posts of December 9, 2005 and May 17, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Adventurous Wisconsin Cat Named Emily Makes Unscheduled Trip to France in Hold of Cargo Ship" and "North Carolina Shelter Plotting to Kill Cat That Survived Being Trapped for Thirty-Five Days in Cargo Hold of Ship from China.")
While few occurrences could ever come close to equaling what Howard has accomplished, the transformative effect that he has had on the residents of Alaiedon and the surrounding areas has been pretty remarkable in itself. "He is inspirational to all he comes in contact with from the young boys who saved him, to the veterinarians, the animal control officers, and all those who have offered to help with his medical costs," ICACS states on its web site. "As he continues to thrive so does our faith in the human race."
In a certain sense, it could be argued that Howard has done more for the residents of Alaiedon than they have done for him. "His story has evoked compassion and empathy within our community and for that we all owe Howard a debt of thanks," ICACS goes on to say. "Who would have thought he would be the one who would give us so much more than we could give him: a humane sense of community."
Lampman put the case much more succinctly when she told the Lansing State Journal, "He stole the hearts of everyone...who looked at him."
As remarkable as Howard's rescue and recovery have proven to be, this tragic case has raised several troubling issues that have yet to be addressed. In particular, although au premier coup d'oeil it would appear that he was born in the wild, his friendly disposition toward humans tends to indicate otherwise.
If that is indeed the case, it is nothing short of appalling that his previous caretaker has not come forward to reclaim him. This callous attitude could be attributable to either financial considerations or simply an uncaring attitude.
In the end it is perhaps just as well because Williamson and ICACS are not expending this much effort and resources on him only to turn around and let just anyone adopt him. It is a sure bet that all prospective adopters will be vetted thoroughly before a good home is selected for him.
Secondly, the combine operator who ran over Howard has been neither identified nor charged. Moreover, it is doubtful that either the police or humane officials are even bothering to look for him.
After all, Alaiedon is located in the heart of farm country and killing animals, either for profit or by accident, is looked upon as being simply part of a normal day's toil.
While it is theoretically possible that the attack could have been accidental, that is highly unlikely. Cats and kittens run like the wind at the approach of humans and this is doubly true of large, noisy vehicles, such as cars, combines, and trains. The truth likely never will see the light of day, but it is a good bet that Howard was run down deliberately.
Of all the modern equipment employed in the production of agriculture, combines in particular exact a heavy toll upon animals and this is borne out by the multitudes of dead squirrels, rabbits, opossums, groundhogs, snakes, birds, and other animals that litter farm fields once they have been divested of their wheat, oats, barley, maize, soybeans, flax, and other crops. While the victims of these kamikaze combine operators are predominantly wildlife, occasionally domestic animals, such as Howard, are injured and killed as well.
Worst still, the protection of animals from the ravages of modern farming techniques is not even an issue. Neither farmers nor consumers care about their safety and even animal welfare groups are reluctant to take on with big agriculture.
Of course, it is axiomatic that the thoroughly loathsome United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) would never lift a finger in order to protect cats. On the contrary, it devotes a significant portion of the welfare dollars that it coaxes out of taxpayers to demonizing and exterminating as many of them as it can. (See Cat Defender posts of April 28, 2009 and May 24, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Quislings at the Humane Society Sell Out San Nicolas's Cats to the Assassins at the Diabolical United States Fish and Wildlife Service" and "USDA and Fish and Wildlife Service Commence Trapping and Killing Cats on Florida's Big Pine Key.")
Considerably less publicized is the fact that it seldom acts to protect even threatened and endangered species of wildlife. Instead, it spends the majority of its time and resources pimping and whoring for farmers, ranchers, and other economic interests.
Most recently, it failed to protect the white-faced Ibis from being slaughtered by wheat farmers in spite of the fact that the bird comes under the purview of the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Consequently, three-thousand eggs and hatchlings were destroyed by wheat combine operators on April 30th of last year in Tulare County, forty-five miles north of Bakersfield. (See Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2008, "Killing of Birds by Harvesting Machines Is Under Investigation.")
The USFWS's sister agency, the USDA's Wildlife Services, additionally exterminates millions of wild animals each year at the request of farmers and other financial concerns. (See Cat Defender post of September 15, 2005 entitled "United States Government Exterminates Millions of Wild Animals at the Behest of Capitalists.")
Currently, it is whetting its insatiable appetite for animal blood by systematically exterminating up to twenty-thousand Canada geese in and around New York City. (See the CBC's As It Happens, June 17, 2009, "New York Kills Geese.")
While the deleterious effects that fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, annuals, and genetically-modified organisms have upon the environment receive considerable attention, agriculture's impact upon animals is seldom discussed. First of all, land used in the production of food must be cleared of all trees, plants, shrubs, and grasses. Next, the soil must be tilled and, most often, polluted.
All of these activities not only deprive animals of their homes but their food sources as well. Furthermore, their reproductive cycles and nurturing activities are disrupted as well. Many of these same calamities also are visited upon a multitude of valuable insects such as bees and butterflies.
Whenever these displaced animals and insects attempt to reclaim what little is left of their former abodes their only reward is to be chopped to bits and pieces by the operators of farm equipment. Even those lucky enough to escape with their lives seldom have anywhere else to live.
Whereas the loss of habitat occasioned by a growing demand for food may be largely unpreventable, there are several measures that farmers could implement in order to safeguard both domestic and wild animals from being killed and maimed by combine operators. For starters, fields should be cleared of all animals beforehand.
Secondly, crop harvesting should be restricted to daylight hours and combine operators should be instructed to go about their business more deliberately so as to watch out for animals. Unfortunately, since time is money it is unlikely that these suggestions will be received favorably.
"The debate over climate change completely distorts our perspective," Josef Reichholf, a biologist at the Munchen State Zoo told Der Spiegel on November 23, 2007. (See "Biologists Debate Relocating Imperiled Species.") "Industrial-scale farming is the number one killer of species."
As for Howard, with his medical bill expected to exceed $2,000, he desperately needs the public's continued support. Anyone willing to be of assistance can contact the ICACS by snail mail at 600 Curtis Street, Mason, Michigan 48854 or by telephone at (517) 676-8376.
For whatever reason, ICACS has elected not to use its own money in order to cover the cost of Howard's treatment. This is absurd! The care of injured cats and other animals is a legitimate public expenditure if there ever was one.
In fact, spending money to treat injured animals is far preferable to squandering trillions of dollars on imperialistic wars, Wall Street crooks, and incorrigible automakers. Unfortunately, as the current debate over health care reform has demonstrated, Americans have little compassion for their fellow citizens, let alone the animals.
Finally, the Billingslea brothers are to be commended for their act of compassion. In an age where most juveniles are better known for the unconscionable crimes that they perpetrate against cats, they are indeed a breath of fresh air. (See Cat Defender posts of June 1, 2009, November 24, 2008, and June 8, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Blind and Deaf on Her Left Side as the Result of a Bow and Arrow Attack by a Juvenile Miscreant, Valentine Is Still Looking for a Permanent Home," "Kilo's Killer Walks in a Lark but the Joke Is on the Disgraceful English Judicial System," and "Adam Is Persevering Throughout All the Pain Two Years after Having Been Torched by Giggling Teenage Girls in Santa Rosa.")
Their parents obviously have instilled in them an abiding appreciation for cats and other animals. They accordingly should be extremely proud of them because they are genuine heroes in every sense of the word.
Photos: Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter.