AEHUC Veterinarian Newsletter

The Inspiring Story of Russell the Cat

Russell the burned kitty initial photoRussell the burned kitty on Jan 19thThis is Russell, burned in a house fire on January 12th, presumed dead, and miraculously found four days later. He was immediately rushed to Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care for treatment. Suffering from second and third degree burns to his feet, face, ears, body, and rectum, as well as major injuries to his mouth and tongue, he was painful and dehydrated. He had developed a fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis) as he had not eaten in four days. The fur on his entire body had been singed off.  At first we focused on life-saving treatments and pain management. Once he was more stable, he was sedated as the tips of his ears had to be amputated, his burns cleaned and dressed, and a feeding tube was placed. He was kept heavily sedated for a few days to keep the pain under control.

Russell with his feet in waterWe first posted his story on our Facebook page on January 19th. Russell’s family had lost everything in this fire, including their pet dog, Fifi, who was treated at our hospital for several days before the family decided to euthanize due to complications from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Knowing the tragedy they were suffering through, we wanted to help. We knew with the extensive treatment he needed that Russell’s medical bills would be high, and so we posted his story on Facebook and asked the community to mail or phone in donations if they could.  We hoped to get small amount of his estimated costs covered by contributions from the public.

The donations for Russell started coming in. The generosity of the community was amazing! We immediately began receiving inquiries about payments from citizens in other countries, and we had to figure out how to create a PayPal account for Russell and link it to our Facebook page.   His family asked us to post a Thank You from them; they were able to go on our Facebook page and see the support Russell was receiving. 

Russell and Barney

They gave us a picture of him before the fire (with his housemate, who was lost in the fire) and gave us some back story on his life. Russell was found as a homeless kitten on the family’s return home from a trip to Georgia.  He has been with them ever since. “He has always been a big talker. Russell has an answer for everything and always wants the last word!”

With his popularity on Facebook it was only a matter of time before the news media picked up his story. Within days WNCN picked up his story, and then our local ABC station, ABC 11, also ran a news piece on him. Radio station G105’s famous “Bob and the Showgram” picked up the story as well as countless websites and online organizations worldwide.

Russell with feeding tubeOver the next several days Russell began to improve as he received our around-the-clock care. He was kept on IV fluids and fed through a feeding tube. He underwent several surgical procedures to clean and remove the dead tissue from his wounds and to change the bandages on his legs and feet. We also used a concoction of SSD and Insulin on his burns to help keep the pain and inflammation down, improve healing, and regenerate tissue. We were thrilled to see that his vision has not been adversely affected, though the swelling around his eyes was such that he kept his eyes closed most of the time.  His attitude throughout has been amazing! He continuously purrs, tries to knead with his front feet, and is such a talker!

Russell on Jan 24th

The donations kept pouring in especially as other internet celebrities would pick up his story on their page. Russell achieved true internet fame when Dr. Marty Becker posted about him! We had to call in reinforcements to help answer phones, email, Facebook messages, and mail!  We were blown away by the generosity of the public.  Russell received donations and encouragement from all 50 states as well as over 40 countries! It wasn’t long before we humbly reported that Russell’s medical expenses had been completely covered! Since so many still wanted to help, we began to advertise our Good Samaritan fund to help other animals in need.

Russell the burned kitty eating

On January 30th Russell finally started eating! Over the next 24 hours we were able to take him off of IV fluids. We continued to administer pain relief medications and apply Collasate (a collagen based ointment) to his burns to help them heal. His feet also remained heavily bandaged and we left the feeding tube in place in case we needed it.  He developed an arrhythmia and we had an echocardiogram performed.  It was concluded that Russell had an underlying heart condition (HCM) that was exacerbated by the trauma of the fire.  He began to leak fluid into the space around his lungs due to a combination of his heart disease and his low protein resulting from injuries sustained in the fire. Russell was started on 3 different heart medications, is monitored with regular ultrasounds, and has thoracocentesis performed as needed.

Photos of Russell from Feb 3rdBy February 2nd Russell was eating dry food on his own and was able to remain off of IV fluids.  He was treated with a special product called ACeLL, which is a matrix created from pig bladder that encourages and stimulates the patient’s own cells to regrow. The matrix was applied to his limbs by being sutured over the wounds.  An injectable form was applied to the tissue around his eyes. We could see whiskers starting to grow back and he was looking tremendously better. He continued to be very talkative, purr loudly, and loved to be petted. He was receiving cards, blankets, bedding, treats, and toys from all over the world. Donations were continuing to come in for our Good Samaritan account in Russell’s honor. On February 7th we received one of the sweetest donations: a seven year old girl named Bella mailed Russell a handmade Get Well Soon card complete with the one dollar donation of her tooth fairy money.

Update 2/28/14: Through February Russell has continued to improve greatly! He had a follow up echocardiogram and received great news – there is no fluid buildup around his lungs and his heart condition appears to be improving! We are changing the bandages on his feet every couple of days and we are pleased with his healing. He had started rubbing the wounds on his face, irritating those areas, and so we placed a soft e-collar to prevent further trauma. He enjoys his walks around the clinic visiting with our team! Russell is fortunate to have received so many wonderful gifts, cards, and treats from people all over the world, and donations have continued to come in to our Good Samaritan account in his honor.  He may have a few more weeks with us but we’re not complaining, he is a pleasure to have around and we have all fallen in love with him!

Some of our frequently asked questions:

1. Will he see again?  Yes! Russell has fortunately not suffered any damage to his eyes and can see fine.

2. Isn’t he in a lot of pain? He was in the beginning. We kept him heavily sedated and gave multiple pain relief medications. He started recovering quickly and is doing well.  Russell even fell asleep on his technician’s arm during his last bandage change.

3. Will his fur grow back? We aren’t sure yet. There are some places where fur and whiskers are growing back, but it is possible that he will have some neat scars to tell his friends about.  Any patches where the fur does not grow back will be purely cosmetic and will not cause Russell any problems.

Russell looking out window

4. What about the family?  Russell’s mom lost everything in the house fire. She suffered severe burns to her hands trying to get her pets out of the house, and sustained a knee injury weeks later. We are keeping the family updated on Russell’s progress and they visit when possible. Two of the family members post on our Facebook page when they can. They are looking forward to taking Russell home! We are covering all of Russell’s medical expenses, Fifi’s (Russell’s canine companion who passed away due to injuries from the fire) medical expenses, and helping the family with the cost of Russell’s continued medical care after he is discharged.

5.  What is the Good Samaritan Fund? Our hospital has a long history of treating homeless, rescue, and surrendered pets as well as local wildlife.  We accepted small donations from clients here and there, but mostly absorbed the cost of these cases.  After the outpouring of support for Russell reached a level where his expenses were completely covered, we thought to create a PayPal account for our Good Samaritan Fund for those who wanted to continue donating to a good cause.  It is currently not a 501(c)3 fund.  100% of all donations go directly to animals in need.

6.  Are you taking money from Russell for the Good Samaritan Fund? Absolutely not. All of the donations that came in for Russell will be used for his care.  The donations received were so generous that they covered all of Russell’s medical expenses to date as well as our best estimates for his continued treatment and follow up care.  Should the cost of his care exceed those estimates, then we will take from the Good Samaritan fund and cover his expenses.

Russells kennel with cards

7. Can we send things to Russell? Russell has received so much love from all over the world! People have sent cards, blankets, toys, and pictures. We appreciate everything and will be giving it all to his family when he leaves. We have decorated his kennel with his cards. At this time Russell does not need anything but we do appreciate the thought! If you’d like to send cards our address is 409 Vick Ave. Raleigh, NC 27612.

8. Why doesn’t Russell have his own Facebook page? We are leaving that up to his family. They have a lot on their plate right now and if they do decide to start a Facebook page for Russell, you can bet we’ll be the first to sign up! We’ll be sure to share the news with our followers as well. We just ask that everyone respect their decision either way.

9. Why doesn’t he have a tail? Russell is  a Manx cat and never had a tail!

10. How old is Russell? He is approximately 3 years old.


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