The little cat hung limply in the policewoman's hands, so weak she couldn't lift her head. She reeked of the diesel fuel that soaked every hair on her body and her legs were burned. Verona Israelson, of Yakutat, didn't hesitate to take her in. Although Yakutat has a volunteer humane society, there is no animal shelter. When a dog or cat needs a place to stay, it goes home with the Israelsons.
Verona gently bathed the cat. Handfuls of hair fell out and huge mats of it had to cut away. The cat was so thin that "every bone in her body stood out, even those in her tail," Verona said. "She just inhaled the food we gave her."
As the patient grew stronger, she walked up to greet the other cats and four dogs there. She got along well with all of them - and opted to curl up and sleep with the dogs. She warmed right up to the people, including children. The kids called her Sylvester because what remained of her fluffy, black-and-white coat reminded them of the cartoon character by that name.
As it became apparent that Sylvester was going to live, Verona turned to figuring out how to get her to veterinary care. The closest veterinarians were in Juneau, and the Yakutat Humane Society had no funds to send an animal or pay for its care. Verona picked up the phone and did something she'd never done before. She called a newspaper, the Capital City Weekly, and asked if they'd run an appeal for help. They did. And Juneau people helped.
Sylvester was flown to Juneau, met at the airport and taken directly to a veterinary clinic that had agreed to give care. While there, Sylvester's name was changed to Sylvia because she's definitely a girl. She has an old surgical scar indicating that she has been spayed. But no one in Yakutat knows where this well-cared-for and loving little cat came from. They wonder if she came into the harbor on a boat, went ashore, got trapped somewhere and missed the boat when her owners had to get underway.
Sylvia is a gentle, petite 2-year-old with big, green eyes. The vet says she's naturally small, and when fully recovered will weigh no more than 6 or 7 pounds. Although still underweight, she is gaining with each passing day. She is especially partial to salmon and salmon-flavored cat food.
The veterinarians expect her to make a complete recovery that will require no special care. The big clearcuts in her coat are sprouting peach fuzz, new hair that will cover all traces of her ordeal. She walks right up to greet anyone who comes by and snuggles and purrs when held.
Who is Sylvia? If you know, please call the Catwoman at 463-5002. If her owner can't be found, she will need a new home. And we will take calls about that, too.
More than a dozen people here and in Yakutat have helped this little cat. All of her travel and medical expenses have been paid and she is now staying in a loving foster home. The first night there, she hopped up on the bed and stretched out to sleep between the husband and wife.
No one involved in Sylvia's rescue wanted publicity. They said they just did what they thought was right.
"Cats and dogs didn't ask to be domesticated," one person said. "We domesticated them because we wanted them to do work for us and be pets. Now we owe it to them to take care of them."
Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats.