GRAND RAPIDS (AP) – Hadley is at the door, poised to greet – tail up, whiskers silky, cheeks ready to rub.
Sure, he looks a little worse for wear. There are patches where his skin shows and fur won’t grow back. His ears are a tad smaller than they should be. But for a cat who was once set on fire, he is looking pretty dapper.
A new book, “Hadley’s Happy Ending,” tells the saga of this popular cat, cruelly soaked in gasoline and set on fire in the summer of 2009. He had wandered away from home and showed up three days later, severely burned. His distraught owners surrendered him to the Humane Society of West Michigan when they couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars for his medical care.
The staff named him Hadley and began the painstaking task of healing him. The orange-and-white tabby, now 4, suffered third-degree burns over his ears, neck, back, legs and part of his face. His whiskers and eyelashes were burned off. The tops of his ears were so badly burned they fell off. Police never found the perpetrator.
His happy ending? He was adopted by 24-year-old Sarah Uzarski, who worked at the Humane Society when Hadley was there and formed a close bond with the affectionate cat.
Grand Rapids author Sue Stauffacher volunteered to write Hadley’s story, and all the profits from the $15 book’s sale go to the Humane Society. “He seduced me into writing his story,” Stauffacher said, who adopted two dogs, Sophie and Tillie, from the Humane Society and has a soft spot for the place. “He pawed at my lap, he batted my hair,” she said. “Hadley courts you. There’s something really special about him.”
He knows it.
Hadley held court on the back of Uzarski’s sofa on a recent sunny afternoon, posing for a photographer, climbing into visitors’ laps and purring contentedly. He raised a paw to give a high-five. Actually, a high-six – Hadley has six toes on each foot.
“It’s amazing how trusting he is, after what he’s been through,” said Uzarski, a longtime animal lover with a degree in zoology from Michigan State University.
“He’s almost like a dog – he’s the first one to greet me at the door,” she said.
Hadley ignored the dog remark and keeps purring.
“I’m so thankful I have him,” Uzarski said. “He’s the best cat I could ask for.”
And lucky. He is fresh from a checkup with his veterinarian, Dr. Wendy Swift, at the Ottawa Animal Hospital. Swift, the former veterinary director at the Humane Society of West Michigan, cared for Hadley during his stay there and will be “his forever vet,” Uzarski said. She gave the feline a clean bill of health, she added.
Stauffacher, author of more than a dozen books for children, calls the book “a wonderful tale about healing after tragedy.” She envisions kids who were burned or who survived abuse connecting with Hadley, the cat who never gave up.
“The Humane Society staff said it was clear that Hadley wanted to live,” Stauffacher said. “Despite what must have been incredible pain he was in, he was affectionate and responsive. Life has some painful moments, but if you keep trying, you’ll prevail.”
Public support for the friendly cat was overwhelming, Uzarski said. More than $12,000 in donations poured into the Humane Society to pay for his extensive treatment and to go toward a reward for the capture of his attacker.
He and Minnie have 1,200 fans on their Facebook page.
Oh, yeah, where’s Minnie? “Under the bed,” Uzarski said. “She’s a bit shy.”
Minnie is Hadley’s best pal from the Humane Society. The pair became so attached while living there, the staff decided she and Hadley should be adopted together.
That makes four cats for Uzarski, including Agnes and Jack.
She happily coats Hadley’s patches of bare skin with Surgeon’s Secret lotion every couple of days to keep it from drying out and obligingly lifts her arm in bed every night so Hadley can snuggle under.
“So many people who never even met Hadley sent their love and support,” Uzarski said. “People from all over the world sent donations for his care; kids made cards for him. It warmed my heart to know people cared about this poor cat.”
“I think those good thoughts helped him heal,” she said.
Hadley, intently watching a squirrel frolic outside the window, flicked his striped tail and exhibited what his biographer Stauffacher claims is his trademark feature.
“He has catitude,” she said.
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