SAYBROOK -- When firefighter Toni Day was handed a tiny tabby kitten covered in second- and third-degree burns through the window of a burning Saybrook home, she wasn’t too optimistic about its chances.
“I didn’t expect her to survive the night,” said the member of the Gibson City Fire Department.
But nearly three weeks later Dutchess is beating the odds in Urbana at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, bringing hope to a family that lost nearly everything and winning the hearts of people around the world. A campaign that began on Facebook to collect money for her care has raised about $2,900 of its $5,000 goal, but more still is needed to ensure Dutchess receives necessary treatment that her family cannot afford.
“At 5 pounds, I can’t believe she hung on like she did,” owner Jackie Jones, 27, said of her 8-month-old feline. “Isn’t it amazing — being a little bitty tiny thing?”
Jones’ one-story home and its uninsured contents were destroyed in a Sept. 19 blaze thought to be electrical in origin. Jones, an assistant manager at Casey’s in Farmer City, and her two sons were at her mother’s home nearby; her boyfriend escaped the fire with minor injuries.
Their pit bull, Zeke, died in the fire.
“All of it has happened so quickly. It’s kind of mind-numbing,” Jones said. “The material things don’t really matter to me, but if I could have saved my dog …”
Dutchess was found hiding under a sofa. She was wrapped in a wet towel and taken by good Samaritans to Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue near Colfax for her initial care. A few days later, Jones transported her to the U of I veterinary hospital’s Small Animal Clinic because her injuries were so severe.
“When she first came in, we couldn’t tell what kind of cat she was,” said Dr. Jennifer Herring, an emergency and critical care resident at the veterinary hospital involved in her care. “She was very extensively injured. We were extremely concerned about her.”
Among the worries: Her lungs were full of soot and debris, making breathing difficult; her paws and limbs were burned along with her face, chest and much of her body; and her flea collar melted into her skin. Her injuries mean there’s a serious risk of infection, so Dutchess needs bandages changed twice daily, daily baths and facial treatments, and the care of specialists like a dermatologist and ophthalmologist.
“She has been so great, so easy to work with,” said Herring, who describes Dutchess’ recovery to date as “phenomenal.” “She purrs all the time.”
The cost for Dutchess’ care is a minimum of $110 per day. A $500 contribution from the U of I emergency fund was quickly depleted, so Day and her partner, Christy Day, set up a Facebook page to raise additional donations. Already, it has more than 430 fans, and another group of cat lovers on Facebook helped spread the word.
“We started getting donations from Toyko, The Netherlands, Australia, France, Europe, all over the U.S., Canada,” said Toni Day. A woman from France wants to make Dutchess a blanket.
At the hospital Sunday, Dutchess was swaddled in another blanket that covered bandages on much of her body. She enjoys being held, looking up at Jones and others who took turns cuddling with her during an hourlong visit.
Her eyes follow visitors and she can blink, something she was unable to do a week earlier. She enjoys gentle chin rubs and scratches behind her ears.
Her prognosis for a full recovery is good. Her whiskers are growing back, and she’s likely to have a lot of her vision. She’s on a high-calorie diet and is “eating like a champ,” said Jones.
Dutchess’ friends hope to raise enough to keep her at the vet hospital for another one to two weeks so her wounds can heal further, plus provide needed follow-up care when she returns home. Any excess money will replenish the U of I emergency fund to help other cats.
“Clearly she was destined to stay alive,” said Toni Day.
How to help Dutchess
-- Donations can be made to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine’s Small Animal Clinic at: http://vetmed.illinois.edu/advancement/giving.html
Use the “Other” category and specify “Dutchess Jones.”
-- Donations by check should be payable to the University of Illinois Foundation with “Dutchess Medical Care” on the memo line and sent to:
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
3505 Veterinary Medicine Basic Sciences Building
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, IL 61802
-- The Geminites, a Facebook page for cat lovers, is holding a raffle and a ChipIn campaign to benefit Dutchess. More information is available at: https://www.facebook.com/#!/Geminites
-- Follow Dutchess’ progress at https://www.facebook.com/TheDutchessBurnFund