It was an early Tuesday morning when I met Cindy Wright of Animal Allies Rescue Foundation (AARF) for a spin class and a cup of coffee at Starbucks. “I can’t stay long,” she told me. “BARCS just called about another burned kitty.” “How many does this make?” I asked. “This will be our seventh this year,” she responded.
Even experienced shelter staff sometimes fail to recognize when an animal has been burned, as the telltale skin sloughing may not occur for days or weeks. But there was no doubt with Daffodil, a kitten who would need critical inpatient veterinary care for burns that covered her neck and back.
Daffodil, Caroline, Pokey, Palmer, Benny, Mirielle and Elisa are all cats in AARF’s rescue program that have suffered injuries consistent with burns. Their injuries place significant demands on the rescue’s resources, as burn victims need ongoing veterinary care due to risk of infection. They also require experienced medical fosters, as caretakers may need to apply Silver Sulfadiazine on wounds, give antibiotics, and provide hydrotherapy.
What motivates a non-profit rescue organization to assume so many heart-breaking and challenging cases? For AARF, the inspiration is Mittens, a kitty that stole the heart of Baltimore and the nation as a whole.
It was 2011, when Mittens was the victim of a horrific crime, which occurred shortly after she gave birth to several kittens. A teenage boy in the home where Mittens lived took her outside on a balcony, restrained her under a milk crate, poured kerosene on her head on back, and threw a book of burning matches on her. Mittens managed to jump off the balcony and roll in the snow in a frantic effort to extinguish the flames that were engulfing her body. Astonishingly, she then returned to the home of her abuser to nurse her kittens.
Cindy fostered Mittens back to health, although her ears were burned off and she needed surgery to close a gaping wound on her back that failed to close. After recovering, Mittens became a therapy cat and started visiting schools with Project Mickey, our humane education partner, as well as the local Ronald McDonald house. Her courage captured the attention of the Maryland General Assembly, which passed several anti-cruelty bills, as well as of the ASPCA, which named her the Cat of the Year in 2011. Thankfully, the teenager that tortured Mittens was held accountable for his brutal crime.
Mittens continues to visit schools and has also comforted girls who have been sexually abused. But her legacy is yet to come. Cindy has authored a children’s book titled Mighty Mittens, which is making its way through the publishing process, and sends the message that, “It doesn’t matter how little you are, you still have a voice to help animals.”
When I asked Cindy where she finds the strength to continue with this heart-wrenching work, she said the answer was simple. “These animals are still happy, sweet, and affectionate, despite the horrific cruelty they have endured. They teach children so much about empathy and kindness.” Even though Cindy has a law degree and is an award-winning investigative journalist turned graduate school instructor, she admits that helping abused and injured animals is not just her passion, but a calling. She is currently fostering Russell and Marty, two cats who are recovering from gunshot wounds.
Veterinary care is the single biggest expense for all rescue organizations and they can only continue their life-saving work when they receive ongoing support. We may not have the wherewithal to foster abused or injured animals, but we can all help by donating, volunteering and adopting. To learn more about AARF, which helps all homeless animals, visit their website or Facebook page.