"Don't be frightened. No one will hurt you. I promise."
Jan Whetstone, volunteer executive director of Committed Alliance to Strays, offers the soothing words to Maddie, a long-haired tabby cat in a carrying crate sitting on a Roxy Ann Veterinary Hospital examination table.
Whetstone removes the green-eyed feline and places her on the table for a quick checkup, revealing the head cone and surgical sutures that hold together flaps of skin on her lower back.
The injury looks painful, but it's better than it was a month ago. Maddie, abandoned by her owner in Jacksonville and left in the care of neighbors a few years ago, had been bitten, either by a raccoon or another cat. The bite itself wasn't bad. Everything that happened after was. The wound became infected, grew several inches and turned into a breeding ground for hundreds of maggots. But despite all that, veterinarians were able to save her life from an infection that should have been fatal. Now she appears to be on her way back to full health.
"This really was a miraculous recovery," said veterinarian J.S. Engeset of Roxy Ann Veterinary Hospital in Central Point.
Gigi LaRossa was among the Jacksonville residents who fed Maddie after her owner abandoned her years ago. When the cat disappeared in May, LaRossa went searching and found her near a neighbor's back door. She did not look well.
"She really smelled terribly," LaRossa said, adding she couldn't see any infection because of the cat's matted hair.
Neighbors took Maddie to the hospital, where veterinarians discovered the problem after shaving the matted hair off. It had covered the maggots that had hatched and been living inside the animal attack wounds. They went to work immediately, anesthetizing Maddie, cleaning out the infected tissue and plucking the maggots out one by one.
"We had such an amount of tissue destruction," Engeset said.
After that, veterinarian Kevin Starnes stretched Maddie's skin back over the wound a little bit at a time before stitching it shut and allowing it to heal.
"(Maddie) had a will to live," Starnes said.
LaRossa contacted Whetstone about the injured feline. Whetstone drove to the veterinary hospital immediately and said C.A.T.S. would foot the bill for Maddie's surgeries and would take her in — as it turns out, for a second time. Maddie had an implanted identity chip that showed she had previously been adopted out by the shelter.
Whetstone said shelters everywhere are seeing increasing numbers of pets abandoned by their owners. Foreclosures and job losses are forcing many pet owners to move, and sometimes they leave their animals behind. This has left shelters and organizations quite crowded, and C.A.T.S. is no exception — they currently have more than 50 cats and kittens ready for adoption.
"There's nowhere to go for these animals in many cases," Whetstone said. "So people are leaving them. They're leaving them at their houses and hoping the neighbors will take care of them.
"Cats do move. They will move with you."
Maddie's doing well now, though she is not yet allowed near other animals. For the time being, she's a resident in Whetstone's home, receiving daily treatments of antibiotic drops over the infection and nursing her way back to health. She's skittish but affectionate. She craves human attention and readily rubs up against people. She's also ready to be adopted, though her new owner will have to meet some very specific requirements.
For more information on adoption or to make a donation, call C.A.T.S. at 541-779-2916.
"(Cats) are resilient," Whetstone said. "I believe love will pull these animals through."
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.