2017-02-10 / Community

Abused cat had tape around face

By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor

A young tiger cat was left in front of Pet Life in Saco Sunday. It was stuffed in a box, had its mouth taped and had a broken leg. (Courtesy photo) A young tiger cat was left in front of Pet Life in Saco Sunday. It was stuffed in a box, had its mouth taped and had a broken leg. (Courtesy photo) SACO – Two employees of Pet Life in Saco were shocked Sunday morning when they discovered a cat had been left outside the door, stuffed in a cardboard box, inside a hooded litter box, with duct tape around its face.

Sales associate Jessica Gagne and manager Kaitlyn Salcedo arrived at the store in the Saco Valley Shopping Center about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 5 to find what they thought looked like a donation.

“I thought, ‘I’ll leave it outside for now, and I opened the store,” Salcedo said. “I would say a little past 10 I went back out and picked it up. It was pretty heavy.”

“I left it at the front desk and I heard a meow – it wasn’t even a meow, it was this little peep, almost,” Salcedo added.

While Salcedo maintained the store, Gagne opened the box.

“I shut the door and put on gloves because I didn’t know what I was going to find,” Gagne said. “(He) was covered in his own feces. He looked like he had been through hell and was happy someone was there.”

The thin tiger cat was wrapped in a white blanket and stuffed in a rectangular box, inside a heavily soiled litter box. The cat’s mouth was taped closed and open containers of cat food were stuffed in the box near the cat’s face. The cat smelled like sickly diarrhea and despite having trouble walking, it hobbled over to volunteers from Another Chance Animal Rescue when they arrived.

The rescue has a satellite location at Pet Life and volunteers were called after the cat was found. A volunteer named the cat Esperanza, whish is Spanish for “hope.”

“His face was shoved in food that they had put in the bottom of the box,” Gagne said, adding that it looked like the cat had attempted to eat some of the food, but the food had become stuck on the tape and in the cat’s mouth.

As Gagne cut the tape off the cat’s face, the cat began to purr.

“He was just so happy – and I was pulling – it was stuck on good,” she said.

Salcedo likens animals to children.

“They’re just as helpless and they need us just as much,” she said. “If someone had done that to me, I would not be happy with anybody. I think that says a lot about animals. They still love us even though there are really horrible people out there.”

“It’s just one thing to know that people are terrible, it’s another thing to see it right in front of your face,” Gagne said, crying.

“I don’t understand how anybody could ever do that to a cat that’s depending on them,” Salcedo said. “They depend on us for everything. It’s very upsetting. I think of my cats. It’s just very inhumane and I could never do that. That takes a special kind of person.”

Officer Kevin Gray of the Saco Police Department responded to the call and took a report, which was forwarded to the city’s animal control officer, Bruce Reynolds. Gray took the tape along with the box and litter container for evidence.

Reynolds said Monday, Feb. 6 that an attempt to collect fingerprints will be made, but a number of people had handled the material.

“It’s a slim chance, but stranger things have happened,” he said.

The cat, which was transferred by a volunteer with Another Chance Animal Rescue to Maine Veterinary Medical Center in Scarborough, had a broken leg and had matted hair and diarrhea. He was estimated to be about 5 or 6 months old.

Reynolds said if it’s determined who is responsible for the cat’s injuries, that person could face a charge of aggravated animal cruelty.

Reynolds said the city pays an annual, per capita rate to Animal Welfare Society out of Kennebunk to care for any sick, injured or stray animals from Saco.

“They will hold it for 10 days or so to ascertain its medical condition and if no one comes forward, the cat would be put up for adoption,” he said.

The city of Saco also has a contract with Maine Veterinary Medical Center, an emergency facility where the cat was transported Sunday, to care for such animals.

“The animal is brought in and they are required to examine it, ascertain treatment can then call the on duty supervisor at the (police department), who will then make the decision about how to proceed,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds on Monday said he wasn’t sure if cameras in the shopping center pointed toward Pet Life.

However, store manager Holly Dustin said the corporate office of Pet Life scanned through footage from a security camera and found that the cat was dropped of at the store at 7:47 a.m. Sunday, by a man in a sweatshirt, driving a silver pickup. The tailgate was down and the litter box where the cat was contained could be seen in the bed of the truck.

The temperature Sunday morning was 24 degrees but felt like 19 degrees with the wind chill, according to weather reports.

“I couldn’t tell if he was the only one in the car,” said Dustin, who was “traumatized” when she heard of the incident.

“I love animals, but cats are my thing,” she said.

“I was horrified, devastated,” Dustin added. “My gut says that the story is bigger than it appears. It could have been a domestic abuse case.”

According to the Humane Society of the United States, in one survey, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted companion animals.

“I think if it hadn’t been for the duct tape on the face, it would have felt like the person wanted to get help for it,” Dustin said, adding that there is sometimes a stigma in bringing a neglected cat to an area shelter or clinic for help.

Dustin said she’s heard of hamsters being left at pet stores, but has never experienced anything like the story of Esperanza.

“I feel like I really have to do something,” she said, regarding a fundraiser for to pay for the cat’s ongoing medical needs.

Dustin said she’ll work on fundraising efforts with the rescue that ends up caring for the cat.

Dustin also wants the general public to know that while she’s glad her staff were able to help the cat, the store is not a shelter.

“There are resources out there,” she said.

Deputy Chief Corey Huntress of the Saco Police Department echoed those sentiments.

“Any time someone has an injured animal, they should contact us and we can make sure it gets the appropriate treatment it needs,” he said. “We all know . . . pets become part of people’s families and how important they are to people. Any time you have a pet who has become injured for different reasons, it’s important to get (them) appropriate medical care.”

“It could have been a very tragic thing,” Huntress added.

Tragic, indeed.

Gagne and Salcedo said if the cat hadn’t made noise, it may have ended up in the garbage.

“If Kaitlyn hadn’t taken that second glance, he would have been thrown away and left for dead, because that’s how he was packaged, he was packaged for dead,” Gagne said.

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