Libby proves that 'something so good can come out of something so bad.'
By AMBER HYLAND
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
COLUMBIANA -- It's hard to take your eyes off Libby.
And when the affectionate calico cat's story is told, it's hard not to be inspired by her strength.
"I can't imagine my life without her. She brings me so much joy and happiness," said Dr. Kim Hanley, a veterinarian at Angels for Animals in Greenford. "It's nothing specific. It's like when people say, 'When you fall in love with someone, you can't describe why you love that person. You just do.'"
Dr. Hanley was doing a three-week internship in New York City in 2002 at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals where the show "Animal Precinct" is filmed.
Although Dr. Hanley worked with many animals who were abused or neglected, Libby was the one animal who captured her attention -- and ultimately her heart.
Dr. Hanley met Libby two months after the cat entered the Intensive Care Unit after being burned.
The calico's ears had fallen off. A large area of pink flesh was exposed from the top of her head to midway down her back.
A cone was around Libby's head to prevent her from licking off wound cream and doing more damage to her burns.
As Dr. Hanley approached Libby's cage, Libby immediately responded by arching her back, rubbing against the cage and purring.
"I was immediately drawn to her. I just had to know her story," Dr. Hanley said. "I was just blown away that she was so sweet and loving despite what happened."
Dr. Hanley sought the details of Libby's story from Libby's primary caretaker and technician, Abigail Goldberg.
Libby's neighbors found her running down the street in flames.
Her owners were notified after Libby's neighbor rushed her to the nearest veterinary clinic. The owners said Libby had jumped on the stove, caught on fire and jumped out of the window.
The owners agreed to pay for Libby's medical care, but the credit card number they gave was invalid.
After several attempts to contact the owners, the veterinary clinic contacted the ASPCA to investigate Libby's case.
Libby received a full examination, blood tests and a skin biopsy. The wounds on top of her body did not match the scenario her owners provided. It was possible that Libby's wounds were the result of an intentional act.
Dr. Hanley would visit Libby daily and watch Goldberg as she cleaned and dressed Libby's wounds.
"Through it all, Libby was very patient and still during what would seem to be a painful ordeal," Dr. Hanley wrote in a story about Libby. "Libby just seemed to enjoy the attention. And she was showered with attention. Everyone that knew Libby, loved Libby.
As Dr. Hanley's internship drew to a close she knew it would be hard to say goodbye to the cat who captured her heart.
Because of Libby's condition, she was unadoptable. Dr. Hanley was given special consideration for adoption because she was a veterinary student at the time. And in December 2002, after ASPCA employees gave their tearful goodbyes, Libby was finally going to a good home with an owner who would continue to shower her with attention.
Dr. Hanley still communicates with Goldberg through e-mail for "Libby updates." Occasionally, Goldberg will send Libby a care package in the mail.
A famous cat
When Dr. Hanley and Libby returned to Dr. Hanley's home, which was then in Virginia, Libby underwent surgery to have the charred areas removed from her body.
Although Libby's ears had fallen off, her hearing was fine since she only lost the outer flap of her ears. The top of her head remains bald.
"I don't think she knows any different. She doesn't know she's special," Dr. Hanley said. "She's just living an average life. She doesn't know she doesn't have ears."
One year after Dr. Hanley adopted Libby, she received a call from ASPCA. The organization wanted Libby to star in a program called "Innocent Victims" to raise awareness about ASPCA.
A film crew came to Dr. Hanley's home for the show. Dr. Hanley and Libby went to New York City to complete the filming where they were greeted by ASPCA staff members who were overjoyed to see their feline friend again.
Several other media outlets picked up the Libby story, including an article published in Oprah Winfrey's magazine O in 2003 about JoAnn Sandano, a humane law enforcement officer on "Animal Precinct."
"I never expected to own a famous cat," Dr. Hanley said.
Dr. Hanley hopes that one day Libby can appear on "Oprah" or "Ellen" to spread Libby's message, which she said is, "something so good could come out of something so bad."
"I just need to take the time to write the perfect letter," she said. "I want something that will stand out and not get thrown in another pile."
Dr. Hanley said her relationship with animals hasn't changed since Libby, but now she wonders what the story is behind the animals left in the drop box at Angels for Animals.
"I think, 'That could have been Libby dropped off in that drop box,'" she said.