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on March 30 1996. Scarlett was in an abandoned garage allegedly used as a crack house in Brooklyn, New York (United States), with her five kittens when a fire started for undetermined reasons. The New York Fire Department responded to a call about the fire and quickly extinguished it. When the fire was under control, one of the firefighters on the scene, David Giannelli, noticed a few of the month-old kittens outside of the garage.
Their mother (Scarlett) was nowhere to be found. Eventually, he found her barely clinging to life. She was severely burned in the process of pulling each kitten from the fire. Her eyes were blistered shut, her ears were severely burned, as were her paws and her fur. The hair on her face was almost completely burned away. Giannelli carefully put them in a box he had found and raced them to the veterinary clinic of the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington.
The vets at the League were not optimistic for Scarlett’s survival. But they saw her devotion to her babies firsthand when they were reunited briefly (Scarlett’s burns necessitated her being separated from them). The blisters on her eyes kept her from being able to see her kittens. But Scarlett touched each of her five kittens with her nose to ensure they were all there and alive! Sadly, the weakest kitten, a white one, died of a virus a month after the fire. However, after three months of treatment and recovery, during which time one of the staff of the League stated Scarlett was “spoiled rotten” and treated like a queen, Scarlett and her surviving kittens were well enough to be adopted.
The story of this feline mother’s heroic efforts to save her kittens attracted worldwide media attention, and the League received countless phone calls and 7,000 letters offering to adopt Scarlett and her kittens. It ultimately chose to divide the kittens into two pairs, and the two pairs of kittens were given for adoption to residents of Long Island. Scarlett herself was adopted out to Karen Wellen.
In her letter, Wellen indicated that, as a result of losing her cat shortly after being injured in a traffic accident herself, she had become more compassionate and would take in only animals with special needs.
The North Shore Animal League has created an award named “The Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism” in her honor. This award is presented to animals that have engaged in heroic acts to benefit others, whether humans or animals.
Scarlett spent 12 1/2 years with her loving family in Brooklyn. As a result of her burns, she required some ongoing care. Her eyes needed to be lubricated several times a day. She also had a heart murmur which was monitored by a cardiologist. She developed hyperthyroidism, kidney failure, dental issues and lymphoma. This was possibly brought on by the illegal addition of melamine to so many of the pet foods–high and low end–on the market. Scarlett’s cancer was in remission when she died, but her other illnesses took their toll on her and she peacefully went to sleep on October 11, 2008