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Bullet costs cat leg, hunt on for shooter

Seminole neighbors hope to catch the person who shot this cat. A .38-caliber bullet was removed.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003


SEMINOLE -- Kirk Malicki was taking his black and white Shih Tzu on a morning walk when he spotted the orange tiger cat in the road.

"It came hobbling over and his left front leg was just dangling," said Malicki, 53, a real estate agent who lives on 110th Street just south of 102nd Avenue N.

Malicki figured the male cat had been run over, but when he took a closer look, he didn't see any blood -- just a mangled limb and a cat that was in a lot of pain.

It wasn't until later that a veterinarian felt something strange while massaging the cat's injured leg.

"This is not a broken bone under this tissue," Dr. John Mead thought to himself. "It feels like a bullet."

"Then the wheels began to turn," said Mead, staff veterinarian for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Pinellas County. "This cat was intentionally injured."

Mead removed the .38-caliber bullet, but the injury was so severe he couldn't save the leg. The bullet had damaged nerves and shattered the year-old cat's radius and humerus. Mead amputated the leg April 5 during an hour-long surgery.

Last week, the 9-pound cat, dubbed Sam by the SPCA, was recovering nicely at the agency's shelter in Largo. The cat eventually will adapt to having only three legs, Mead said. He'll learn to shift his weight so he can use his lone front leg, he said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating the crime, a felony punishable by up to a year in prison. Deputy Adam Sarlo, Seminole's community policing officer, and Jay McGill, an animal abuse investigator for the SPCA, are passing out fliers and asking neighbors if they have any information about the shooting, which would have occurred between April 2 and April 4.

Anyone with information is asked to call McGill at 586-3591 or Sarlo at 582-6029.

It's a mystery as to how the cat ended up in a Seminole neighborhood. When he was three months old, he was adopted from the SPCA shelter in Largo by a Bradenton resident, said Beth Lockwood, executive director of the non-profit organization.

When the cat was rescued April 4, he was not wearing a collar. But he does have a tiny computer chip implanted in him that contains information such as his owner's name and phone number. Repeated calls to that number have gone unanswered, Lockwood said.

Lockwood has no idea how the cat ended up in Seminole. The owner may have given the cat to someone else, but the SPCA was never notified so it could update the chip, she said.

Malicki, who found the cat, said the friendly feline had been hanging around his house for a couple of days before he was shot. Lockwood believes someone in the neighborhood must know something. "Somebody had to have heard something," she said. "Seminole is not an area where you hear gunshots."

The SPCA has three animal abuse investigators authorized to respond to abuse throughout Pinellas County and, if necessary, remove animals from their owners' homes. Usually the SPCA handles 500-800 abuse calls a year. From July 2001 to June 2002, the agency conducted 769 investigations.

Nora Hawkins, a SPCA spokeswoman, said the agency rarely treats animals that have been shot . Several years ago, a black Labrador was shot in his back yard. The perpetrator was never caught.

Lockwood said she is concerned about the shooting. She said research shows there often is a connection between animal abuse and other crimes, including domestic violence, child abuse and crimes against the elderly.

"I can't imagine who would do this," said Lisa Smith, 36, a hotel supervisor and friend of Malicki's who brought the cat to the SPCA shelter.

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