Howard the Combine Kitty Is Adopted by the Lads Who Saved Him from a Sure and Certain Death in a Ditch Alongside a Michigan Wheat Field
"Fortunately, Howard's recovery has been far better than expected...He's growing and his legs have healed and he looks like a normal cat with the exception of two shortened front limbs. He moves around on his own and is adjusting to his limitations.".
-- Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter
When it comes to severely abused and injured cats happy endings are about as rare as hens' teeth. Consequently, whenever an especially courageous cat somehow defies the odds and cheats the Grim Reaper out of his bounty it is time to celebrate.
Such was the occasion at Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter (ICACS) on October 24th when around forty individuals stopped by to attend a two-hour reception held in honor of Howard the Combine Kitty. There were brownies, cakes, cookies, and refreshments but the piece de resistence was, of course, Howard.
After surgery in order to remove what was left of his mangled front paws and multiple skin grafts to repair his severely injured front legs, the young black and white kitten is now out of both the hospital and foster care.(See photo above.)
The happy occasion was therefore staged in order to give the public one last opportunity to see him before he went to live with his new family. Appropriately enough, he is going to be spending the remainder of his life with the two lads who saved his, ten-year-old Kyle and eight-year-old Bryce Billingslea.
The Alaiedon Township, Michigan, boys heard his plaintive cries for help as they rode their bikes down Willoughby Road on July 30th. (See photo below of the pair.)
Without hesitation, they gathered him up in their arms and carried him to a nearby farmhouse where the owner summoned help in the form of the ICACS's Gary Ireland. Although he believed that Howard most likely was beyond all mortal assistance, Ireland nonetheless rushed him to Lansing Veterinary Medical Center where Mark Williamson, Valerie Chadwick, and the rest of the staff happily made a liar out of him.
Only eight-weeks-old at the time, Howard was the victim of an unconscionable combine operator who had run him down and left him to die a lonely and prolonged death in a ditch alongside a wheat field. Not only had his front paws been left dangling at the ends of his now useless stumps, but his mangled flesh had begun to rot and was infested with maggots.
Without either food or water, Howard lay suspended between life and death for a week during which time he easily either could have bled to death or died from infection. There also was the constant fear that he could have been attacked by a predator.
As soon as he was well enough to leave the hospital, Howard went to live with his foster mom, Terri Valentino of Mason. (See photo below of her saying goodbye to him.)
"You touch him and he flips over and wiggles toward the door, and he purrs nonstop," she told the Lansing State Journal on October 25th. (See "'Combine Kitty' on His Way Home with Rescuers.")
Although it was at first thought that Howard would be fitted with prosthetics, apparently that plan has been abandoned. Instead, the new plan calls for him to learn to get along on his stumps which, understandably, are still tender even after months of recuperation and skin grafts.
"Fortunately, Howard's recovery has been far better than expected," ICACS stated recently on its web site. "He's growing and his legs have healed and he looks like a normal cat with the exception of two shortened front limbs. He moves around on his own and is adjusting to his limitations."
As remarkable as Howard's rescue and recovery have been, the effect that he has had on the residents of this southern Michigan community as well as individuals from around the world has been nothing short of amazing itself. For example, once news of his plight appeared in the local dailies and on the Internet donations for his care poured in not only from area residents but from as far afield as Angleterre, Montana, Texas, and New Jersey.
The public has been in fact so generous that not only has Howard's $2,000 medical tab been covered, but there are sufficient funds left over in order to treat three other injured, abused, and sick animals.
"His story has evoked compassion and empathy within our community and for that we all owe Howard a debt of thanks," ICACS stated on its web site last summer. "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."
Several disturbing questions remain unanswered, however. First of all, since Howard is such a friendly cat it thus would appear that he spent the weeks prior to the incident around people. It therefore is a good bet that he was either dumped alongside Willoughby Road or that his previous owners, for whatever reason, did not want him back. Perhaps in the end that is just as well because it was their initial act of callous cruelty that cost Howard his front paws.
It also is outrageous that the combine operator who tried to kill Howard has not been identified and arrested. Moreover, apparently nothing has been done in order to ensure that other cats and wildlife are protected against the irresponsible behavior of combine operators who seem to believe that they have a God-given right to make as much money as quickly as possible regardless of the cost to animals.
After all, Howard need not have been forced to suffer in the first place when an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (See Cat Defender post of August 20, 2009 entitled "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.")
Photos: ICACS (Howard by himself and the Billingsleas) and Robert Killips of the Lansing State Journal (Howard and Valentino).