His ears have been burned down to nubs, making him look, from certain angles, more like a squirrel.
Yet he is feline, a young tabby cat, about 7-months-old.
Possibly due to the combination of his very friendly personality and the inexplicable riddle of human cruelty, this kitten was mutilated and seemed destined for a painful death.
He was set on fire by a person or persons unknown but survived long enough to be found in a storm drain by DeKalb Animal Services. They immediately contacted LifeLine Animal Project and asked if LifeLine would come and get him.
They did and he now has a name, Phoenix, and a future.
Phoenix's small ears make his eyes look even bigger by comparison as he calmly watches the efforts of the physicians and rescuers who are trying to save his life. He has third degree burns on his side and back. His whiskers are singed, making them uneven and kinked up in places.
Kittens are far more fragile creatures than they usually appear with their propensity to be lively, looking-for-trouble, rough and tumble balls of fur. When abused or abandoned, kittens often don’t survive.
Cases like Phoenix are called “cruelty cases” but that almost seems too mild a term. Their circumstances are heartbreaking, time-consuming, and their injuries can be enormously expensive to treat and to rehabilitate.
There are very few places an injured, sick or abused homeless animal can go to get better. As an organization, Lifeline tosses out exactly what their name says, a lifeline, to homeless pets who have few, to no options.
“Without our help many of these animals, who are treatable, would be euthanized. It’s a ‘kill the victim’ situation and that is just wrong,” says Rebecca Guinn, a lawyer who gave up a thriving career in criminal law to found and head up the non-profit almost a decade ago.
She added, “LifeLine doesn’t give up on these animals when they need us the most."
If Phoenix survives – and the prognosis for this spunky kitten looks good – he'll be up for adoption, once he’s completely healed. What his new owners will get, in addition to a surprisingly good-natured kitten some are calling a miracle cat, is a pet that will have had live-saving medical treatment that cost well over a thousand dollars. These treatments are paid for by LifeLine through donations from supporters. Some providers help by discounting their services where they can.
Burn victims, human or animal, require specialized daily care. They often must be isolated because infection is an ever-present danger. Wounds take months to heal; sometimes skin or synthetic grafts are needed where flesh has been burned away.
Phoenix is doing very well after just a few weeks of treatment. He likes to eat and when it’s not too painful, he nudges or playfully bites a cat toy. Despite the burned ears, his hearing is just fine. He responds to touch, rubbing up against the hands that treat his wounds. He purrs loudly and often.
Pictures and video of Phoenix on Lifeline’s Facebook page have engaged a community of supporters who log on daily to see how this spirited kitten is beating the odds. This growing community has been dubbed “Phoenix’s heroes” by LifeLine staff and has contributed to his care through a donation program.
They discuss his recovery, the need for stronger cruelty laws and in the most straightforward language, the retribution they imagine would be fair for the culprit who burned a helpless kitten alive.
Phoenix’s plight has affected people of all ages and from all neighborhoods in the city. In many ways this kitten seems to inspire people as living proof that good news can follow bad, that tiny and mighty can triumph over seemingly hopeless circumstance.
"Phoenix is so strong for such a small kitten and so good,” says Mickie Blair, who wears many hats at LifeLine, including cat adoption counselor. “He’s a brave little man.”
LifeLine has an online cat and dog adoption database that includes pictures and profiles of homeless pets from their shelter, from other rescues in the area and endangered animals now in county shelters. See them at www.atlantapets.org.