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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Monday, November 20, 2017

Already Ten Years Overdue, the Indomitable Pilot Is Burned to Within an Inch of His Life by a Deadly California Wildfire but Nonetheless Is Still Able to Finally Make It Home in Time for This Thanksgiving

Pilot Lost His Whiskers in the Wildfire

"He's not ready to give up so neither am I. I will do what I can to help him."
-- Jennifer Leigh Thompson

The odds against a cat being reunited with his family after a ten-year separation must be at least a million to one. For one to have survived being severely burned in a deadly wildfire surely must be equally daunting.

As incredible as it may sound, a long-suffering and determined thirteen-year-old brown tom named Pilot from Santa Rosa has succeeded in pulling off both of those utterly amazing feats. Since he, regrettably, does not speak any language that humans are capable of comprehending, the best that can be done is to take the elliptical accounts and recollections of those who have known him, conduct an analysis of the circumstances, and then to sprinkle in liberal amounts of both logic and supposition in order to piece together the tapestry of his incredible story of survival and triumph over simply outrageous misfortune.

Like so many cats, Pilot was abandoned as a kitten. He most likely was either dumped at a shelter by his utterly worthless owner or arrested by Animal Control officers and then subsequently incarcerated.

In 2004, he got a tremendous break when he was adopted, presumably from a shelter, by Jennifer Leigh Thompson. Over the course of the following three years he, from all accounts, enjoyed a happy and contented life with her, her husband, and children.

"He was an indoor-outdoor cat that always came home every evening like clockwork," she wrote November 2nd on Go Fund Me. (See "Help with Pilot's Veterinary Care.") "He is a very special cat who loved my kids, loved to play in water, and followed us around like a dog."

One day in 2007, however, he failed to come home. "We were devastated," Thompson continued. "His disappearance was extremely traumatizing to us."

The loss of him was made all the more puzzling given that he not only was wearing a collar with a tag but microchipped as well. "We checked the shelters for months with no success," she informed The Sacramento Bee on November 3rd. (See "Cat Missing for Ten Years Survives Wine Country Fires -- and Will Be Reunited with His Family.")

Although it has not been disclosed what other efforts she undertook in order to locate Pilot, shelters were, quite obviously, the wrong places for her to have been looking for him. Also since she was then working in the veterinary field, touching bases with local practitioners would have been the second most logical place for her to have looked but that, too, would have been another cul-de-sac.

Since only shelters and veterinary offices possess the scanners that are required in order to decipher them, microchips are totally worthless unless lost cats are, one way or another, brought into one of those facilities. Almost as disturbing, it is far from clear if veterinarians and shelters are under any legal obligation to notify former owners whenever their long-lost cats turn up at their surgeries and houses of detention.

The Staff at PetCare Worked Hard to Save Pilot's Life

If not, the decision of whether or not to return such cats to their rightful owners is left to the sole discretion of their current guardians. For instance, Michael King voluntarily returned four-year-old Tabor to her owner, Ronald A. Buss of Portland, after an implanted microchip was found by staffers at Helena Veterinary Service. (See Cat Defender post of July 5, 2013 entitled "Tabor's Long and Winding Road Leads Her Back Home but Leaves Her with a Broken Heart.")

It was an entirely different story with an unidentified woman who somehow came into custody of Dan Bouchery's tuxedo Cookie in that she had to be pressured by the gendarmes into returning him after a veterinarian in Normandie, thanks to an implanted microchip, had definitely established who was his lawful owner. (See the Nice Matin, December 12, 2014, "Un chat disparu à Grasse, parcourt un millier kilomètre pour retrouver sa maîtresse en Normandie" and Cat Defender post of October 20, 2017 entitled "Beautiful and Noble Hamish McHamish Who Suffered Through Fourteen Years of Abject Neglect and Naked Exploitation Is Remembered as Cat of the Year for 2014.")

The most logical explanation in Pilot's case is that he was stolen by an individual who afterwards kept him confined indoors; otherwise, he surely would have returned home. That individual likewise was astute enough to have removed and gotten rid of his collar and tag.

Stealing a cat is not only a simply task to pull off but it constitutes an almost perfect crime. In England, for example, cat stealing has reached epidemic levels. (See the Burton Mail, September 5, 2017, "Swadlincote Vet Makes Plea to Cat Owners as Number of Thefts Continues (sic) to Soar.")

Furthermore, in those extremely rare cases when owners actually find out what has become of their cats it often is way too late for them not only to reclaim them but to even save their lives. (See Cat Defender post of February 8, 2017 entitled "The Long and Hopelessly Frustrating Search for the Kidnapped Mr. Cheeky Ends Tragically Underneath the Wheels of a Hit-and-Run Motorist.")

The only other explanation that readily comes to mind is that Pilot voluntarily left home due to a conflict with another cat or a dog. That is an expedient that some cats have been known to adopt, especially if they have been subjected to repeated bullying. Only Thompson knows if that were indeed the case but she has not publicly speculated one way or the other on what caused him to leave home.

Meanwhile at the Thompson household, new cats and dogs came and went and she and her family soon forgot all about Pilot. In 2007, they pulled up stakes and relocated to Longmont, fifty-three kilometers north of Denver, where she settled into the avocation as a pet sitter and dog walker.

A decade later and halfway across the country, the infamous Tubbs Fire broke out in Sonoma and surrounding counties in early October and in its wake it burned more than thirty-six-thousand acres of land, killed twenty-two individuals, and destroyed more than five-thousand buildings. In Santa Rosa alone, the fire inflicted an estimated US$1.2 billion in damage and that included the burning down of more than twenty-eight-hundred buildings. All totaled, a full five per cent of the city's housing stock went up in smoke.

Hundreds, if not indeed thousands, of cats were cruelly left behind to fend for themselves as their morally reprehensible owners hightailed it out of town in order to save their own miserable hides. (See The Press and Democrat of Santa Rosa, November 7, 2017, "Amid Sonoma County Wildfires, One Group Uses Social Media to Reunite Pets and Their Families.")

On All Hallows Eve, a miracle almost too incredible to believe occurred when an unidentified Good Samaritan came upon a famished and dehydrated cat that was stumbling along on four badly burned paws. His whiskers were gone and his ears had been burned to a crisp.

Although the poor cat looked to be more dead than alive, this truly wonderful and compassionate individual did not hesitate to transport him to the PetCare Veterinary Hospital at 2425 Mendocino Avenue where the staff consented to attempt to save his life. Press reports have not specified if the surgery voluntarily chose that course of action or if the Good Samaritan was required to pay up front for the cat's emergency care.

Pilot Was Put in an Elizabethan Collar

Be that as it may, the cat's paws were burned to the bone and that necessitated that the veterinarians had to sedate him in order to clean, medicate, and bandage them. Antibiotics, analgesics, an Elizabethan collar and, in all likelihood, intravenous fluids were administered to him.

While they were at it, they routinely scanned him for an implanted microchip and that is how that they belatedly learned that he at one time had been owned by Thompson. Inexcusably, she had not paid the administrator of the chip's database to maintain her current contract information on file and that in turn necessitated that the staff at Petcare had to track her down by telephone.

Some veterinarians and shelters are unwilling to go that extra mile for lost cats but those who do so are richly rewarded for their due diligence, especially if they should happen to be partial to unraveling incredible cat survival stories. (See Cat Defender posts of March 31, 2010 and August 26, 2015 entitled, respectively, "A Winnipeg Family Is Astounded by Tiger Lily's Miraculous Return after Having Been Believed Dead for Fourteen Years" and "A Myriad of Cruel and Unforgivable Abandonments, a Chinese Puzzle, and Finally the Handing Down and Carrying Out of a Death Sentence Spell the End for Long-Suffering and Peripatetic Tigger.")

To say that the telephone call that Thompson received from PetCare came as shock would be a gross understatement. "I never in a million years imagined that we'd ever see him again," she swore to The Mercury News of San Jose on November 3rd. (See "Cat Missing Ten Years Is Found Burned but Alive in Wine Country Fires.") "It's amazing he survived all of that."

In particular, it is estimated that Pilot had been hobbling along on his own for at least two weeks after the fire. Not only was he in excruciating pain but he had almost nothing to either eat or drink during that period. Nevertheless, he was able to somehow and some way persevere for just long enough until the Good Samaritan entered and saved his life.

After Thompson had gotten over the initial shock that Pilot was indeed still alive, she was confronted with a litany of sobering and daunting dilemmas. Most importantly of all, did she want him back?

Secondly, how badly did she want him back? Specifically, was she willing to invest the enormous amounts of money, time, and care that were going to be required in order to make him well again?

Finally, even if she were willing to do all of that, how on earth was she going to be able to pull it off? After all, veterinary care is outrageously expensive and Longmont is twelve-hundred-thirty-eight kilometers east of Santa Rosa.

As far as it is known, Thompson never hesitated and instead listened only to the calling of her heart. "He's not ready to give up so neither am I. I will do what I can to help him," she promised November 2nd on Go Fund Me. "He's in really good spirits and gets excited and wants to be petted and loved the moment someone opens his cage door at the veterinary hospital."

In furtherance of that noble objective, she established the Go Fund Me page referred to supra which as of November 19th had raised US$4,288 from one-hundred-twenty-seven donors. That is a good start but it is hardly going to even begin to cover the cost of Pilot's long, tedious, and difficult recuperation.

Pilot and His Heavily Bandaged Paws at the Home of Thompson's Sister

For instance, he is going to require daily visits to a veterinarian for at least two months. During such visits he is going to have to be sedated so that his bandages can be changed and his paws medicated. No figures have been floated, but each of those visits is surely going to cost Thompson hundreds of dollars.

"It's been very difficult not being able to see him right away but the staff at PetCare has been amazing with keeping me updated and sending me photos," she informed The Sacramento Bee on November 3rd. "I can't wait to see him. I'm excited and my kids are excited!"

While she was finalizing plans to wing it to Santa Rosa so as to collect Pilot she received some encouraging news that made the agony of waiting a little bit easier to bear. "Pilot is really doing well!" she exclaimed November 4th on Go Fund Me. "He's getting transitioned onto oral medication now (from, presumably, being fed intravenously) which is a very positive thing. And he's gaining weight!"

The long awaited and much anticipated reunion with her long-lost cat finally came about on the evening of November 8th and nobody either inside or outside of Hollywood could have scripted the dénouement any better. "He was asleep when I walked into the hospital ward at PetCare and immediately raised his head and turned around when he heard my voice," Thompson disclosed November 9th on Go Fund Me. "I am overjoyed and the tears were flowing! I have no doubt that he remembers me."

Not a great deal is known about the recall capabilities of cats. They do, however, most definitely remember familiar smells and voices.

On the other hand, their personalities and behavioral characteristics seldom change over time regardless of how much adversity should befall them. Consequently, just because a long-lost cat still behaves as before does not necessarily prove that it still recognizes its former owner.

A day earlier Pilot had undergone surgery in order to have an unspecified number of his claws removed because they were said to have been interfering with the healing of his paws. Nevertheless, he was still well enough to have spent the following night with Thompson at her sister's house.

"Pilot slept in my bed with me last night. I finally felt some peace with this sweet boy next to me," she continued November 9th on Go Fund Me. "He is still such a snuggle bug. Ten years have not changed a thing."

The same thing could be said about Pilot's interim guardian, but doing so would not cast that individual in a positive light. First of all, it is difficult to comprehend how that anyone could be so callous as to run out on a cat that either he or she had sheltered and fed for, presumably, a decade.

Secondly, that individual did not even have enough concern to come forward and attempt to reclaim him even after his story and photograph had been splashed all over both mainstream and social media. Of course, it is remotely possible that the individual in question perished in the inferno but even that would not excuse family members from coming forward and doing the right thing.

Pilot Is Joyfully Reunited with Jennifer Leigh Thompson

Since it has not been disclosed either where Pilot was found or where Thompson previously resided in Santa Rosa, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that it was precisely one of her neighbors who had stolen him and that he consequently had been living for the past decade only a few doors down the street from her old abode.

If the assumption that Pilot was stolen is correct, it is highly unlikely that his interim guardian ever will attempt to reclaim him. That would appear au premier coup d'oeil  to foreclose the possibility that Thompson and her family will be forced to go through a grueling and heart-wrenching custody battle.

Pilot flew home to Longmont with Thompson sometime last week. Although their itinerary has not been publicly divulged, their trip most likely originated with an automobile ride to the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, eleven kilometers northwest of Santa Rosa. From there, they took an approximately one-hour flight to San Francisco.

Following a ninety-minute layover they then took a two and one-half-hour flight to Denver. Upon arrival, they were forced into taking another trip by car to Longmont.

Even under normal circumstances such a journey would have been quite an ordeal but having a sick cat along must have made for quite a trying experience for Thompson. They did luck out on the last leg of their journey in that the plane was not crowded.

In fact, they had an entire row of seats to themselves and the stewardess graciously consented to allow Pilot to occupy one of the empty seats alongside Thompson as opposed to flying on the floor. She thus was able to communicate with him and to monitor his condition en route. Given that he must be sedated on a daily basis in order to have his bandages changed, hopefully he was able to have made the trip without having any additional potentially harmful narcotics pumped into his system.

As far as it is known, they did not have to contend with any soaks or other miscreants during their trip. Overall, he "traveled pretty well for the most part," Thompson wrote November 16th on Go Fund Me.

Once they finally arrived home, Pilot was reunited with Thompson's now eighteen-year-old daughter who had loved him so much that she had experienced nightmares when he disappeared all those years ago. Not surprisingly, their meeting proved to be every bit as emotional as had been Thompson's with him a few days earlier.

"She came in the room and he started chirping away (he has this little chirp that he does) when he saw her and she started talking," Thompson disclosed on Go Fund Me. "It was pretty amazing. They've been hanging out now as much as possible."

Pilot's amazing odyssey that has taken him from being missing and presumed dead all the way back to the present and the world of the living also has made it possible for the fissures in the heart of Thompson's daughter to finally heal. "This is what means the most to me. Our cat is here," Thompson continued on Go Fund Me. "He is healing. We are doing whatever we can to help him heal. And he and my daughter are happy."

Pilot with Thompson's Admiring Eighteen-Year-Old Daughter

Should he somehow be able to make it through the dark days and weeks that lie ahead, Pilot might even discover that he likes Longmont a good deal more than he did Santa Rosa. To its credit, the town does boast such outstanding citizens as the now retired Mike McCarthy of Golden Van Lines who not only tracked down the owners of a lost four-year-old, longhaired cat named Neo in October of 2006 but also put him on a plane back to his home in Crowley. (See Cat Defender post of November 6, 2006 entitled "Trapped in a Moving Van for Five Days, Texas Cat Named Neo Is Finally Freed in Colorado.")

Now that he has left Santa Rosa, Pilot's continued care has been handed off to James K. Skelly of the Foxtail Pines Veterinary Hospital in Erie, seventeen kilometers south of Longmont. While there is not any reason to question his competency, he nonetheless is a graduate of PennVet in Philadelphia and his father even worked at the surgery.

The problem with PennVet and by extension its parent, the University of Pennsylvania, is that the both of them are staffed almost exclusively with bloodsucking capitalists who do not possess so much as a scintilla of respect for the sanctity of animal life. For example around Christmastime in 2013, staffers at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital steadfastly refused to treat a cat that accidentally had swallowed a piece of ribbon because its owner was unable to come up with the thousands of dollars that they had demanded in advance.

They instead elected to kill it on the spot. That was in spite of the fact that the University of Pennsylvania boasts an endowment in the billions.

Furthermore, the practitioners at Ryan experiment on and torture to death countless cats, dogs, and other small animals each year during the course of their utterly worthless experiments. The same sort of atrocities are carried out at PennVet's satellite campus, the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, where its veterinarians line their pockets by pimping and whoring for meat, egg, and milk producers, the horse racing industry, and other serial abusers and killers of large animals.

Not surprisingly, the animal research laboratories on both campuses also do not even comply with the minimalist standards of animal care as mandated by the already as weak-as-water Animal Welfare Act of 1966. (See Cat Defender post of March 19, 2014 entitled "Cheap and Greedy Moral Degenerates at PennVet Extend Their Warmest Christmas Greetings to an Impecunious, but Preeminently Treatable, Cat Via a Jab of Sodium Pentobarbital.")

It accordingly would be extremely unwise for Thompson to count on Skelly to either extend her any credit or to give her any discounts. Much more to the point, anyone even remotely affiliated with either PennVet or the University of Pennsylvania should be avoided like the plague, let alone subsidized in the commission of their wholesale crimes against cats and other animals.

Looking ahead, the burns to Pilot's paws and ears should heal in time although he may require skin grafts in order to complete those processes. The real menace to his health are the drugs that he is being given in order to sedate him and that is a major problem considering his advanced years. In particular, sedatives can cause renal and hepatic failure as well as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the latter of which does not always show up on blood tests.

Some people claim to have had a measure of success using such natural sedatives as Feliway® and Rescue Remedy® but it is doubtful that either of them would be potent enough in Pilot's case. At the very least, only the tiniest doses of tranquilizers should be used, his heart rate continuously monitored, and oxygen provided if needed whenever his bandages are changed.

Pilot Asleep at Home but He Has a Long Road to Recovery Ahead of Him

It might even be possible to combine smaller doses with some sort of physical restraints. After all, a screaming, scratching, and biting cat is far preferable to a dead one.

It thus would appear that the best that can be hoped for is that his paws will soon heal to the point that his bandages can be changed less frequently. Until that day arrives, Skelly and Thompson are going to be walking a tightrope, hoping against hope that his paws heal before the tranquilizers kill him.

The roll call of honor in making Pilot's deliverance a reality includes first and foremost the Good Samaritan who, true to the fraternity, has refused both all acknowledgement and thanks. The dedicated staffers at PetCare likewise are to be commended for their steadfastness and veterinary skill.

Last but certainly not least, it is the lovers of the species who have so generously opened up both their hearts and wallets that are making Pilot's recovery a reality. "I want to say thank you to every single person who has donated to us," Thompson wrote November 4th on Go Fund Me. "My family is beyond grateful and I am truly humbled by the outpouring of love and generosity."

They certainly have their share of detractors, but there are not any people quite like cat lovers. "When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction," Mark Twain once observed and the outpouring of support that Pilot has received proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that many individuals still feel that same way today.

The final chapter is yet to be written, but to have lived an altogether different existence for a decade, to have survived the Tubbs Fire, and now to have been reunited with Thompson and her family is quite an accomplishment for any cat. Without the implanted microchip, however, PetCare would not have treated him unless someone else had agreed to pick up his veterinary tab, Thompson and her family would have remained forever in the dark as to what had become of him, and his incredible story of courage and survival never would have come to light.

Although microchips are totally worthless when it comes to protecting cats from humans and animals that are intent upon doing them harm, they nonetheless, like DNA analysis, are rewriting history. It therefore is precisely because they have so revolutionized the almost hopeless task of finding long-lost cats that aggrieved owners never should give up hope. As Pilot and thousands of other cats already have proven, many cats that have been presumed long dead have instead gone on to live other, often lengthy, lives.

For Thompson, being reunited with Pilot has been somewhat bittersweet. "Although I am sad we lost so much time with him," she lamented November 16th on Go Fund Me. "I am grateful for the time we have left. We will cherish every single moment."

Thanksgiving, which is only a few days away, is bound to be not only special but totally unforgettable this year at the Thompson house in Longmont and with that in mind it is appropriate to express two wishes. The first of which is that for Pilot to have a speedy and successful recovery that is followed by many more happy and joyous years.

Secondly given that mulligans usually are only doled out on the golf course, it can only be hoped that Thompson and her family fully appreciate what a tremendous gift that they have been given and that they will endeavor to make good on their pledges to Pilot by loving, cherishing, and honoring him for every minute of every day that he has left upon this earth. Carpe diem!

Photos: PetCare (Pilot with singed whiskers, the vets, and in an Elizabethan collar) and Go Fund Me (Pilot's bandaged paws, with Thompson, with her daughter, and asleep at home).