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NOTE: This story was written in 1997 by David Sykes, one of the original founders of Noah's Ark Animal Foundation.

For many years it had been a dream of mine to run a shelter for lost, stray and abandoned animals. But I wanted the shelter to be comfortable and home-like. Plus, I wanted to feed the animals healthy high quality food and treat any ailments with natural remedies. Noah’s Ark has been that dream-come-true for me. It has been wonderful to watch as the often malnourished animals who come to the shelter start to blossom with health. Their shining coats and bright eyes make all the hard work seem worthwhile.

Their personalities appear to blossom too. Some of the cats assume the role of official greeter, strolling out to inspect anyone who comes to visit.

Freddy, a large and beautiful gray Persian, was one of these greeters at Noah’s Ark. In fact, I called Freddy, the “Captain.” He was not a cuddly cat, being far too macho for that, but he was a friendly sort and no one came to the shelter who was not subject to the Captain’s inspection and perhaps a rub or two against the leg. Freddy had been at the shelter six or seven years and had become a personal favorite of mine.

One Saturday morning, I received a frantic call from one of the volunteers who had gone to feed the cats that morning. Something terrible had happened—I had to come over right away.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I found when I arrived at the shelter. During the night, someone had broken into the locked shelter and gone on a killing spree, using blunt instruments to murder and maim over 25 cats.

The shock was devastating and I was almost numb as I called the police and other volunteers to come and help me care for the injured, gather up the dead and attempt to put the shelter back into some semblance of order. As the word quickly spread, a local church sent a crew of ten men to help out, including two of the ministers. It was the compassionate and conscientious labor of all these volunteers that got me through the worst moments of that morning.

After about an hour, I had the panicked thought, “What about the dogs?” Running out to the kennels to check, I was immensely relieved to find them all unharmed. Two of the dogs in our care, Duke and Dolly, are Rhodesian Ridgeback-Mastiff mixes, enormous and powerful-looking dogs with the hearts of puppies—when it comes to people they know and love. For once I was glad they looked so formidable, even though it’s probably why they haven’t found homes yet, for I was sure that was why no stranger had been foolish enough to take them on.

When I returned to the house, volunteers were placing the cats who had died in a cart for burial. I felt the tears come to my eyes as I recognized so many of my little friends. Then I saw the gray body, partially covered by a towel. “Not Freddy,” I moaned, “please don’t let it be Freddy.” But the Captain was no where to be found, and I had to face the fact that Freddy was gone.

I felt physically sick when I thought that it was probably his friendly, trusting nature that had killed him—walking right up to people who had evil intentions towards this sweet and innocent animal.

The outpouring of concern and sympathy from supporters in our community was amazing. And after the local paper reported the incident, the national news services picked up the story and soon calls and letters were flooding in from all over the country. People drove from neighboring states to adopt the survivors of the attack and donations came that helped to cover the cost of the medical and hospital bills for the injured cats.
It was a painful time for me. I felt the grief of losing so many beings I had come to love and I was bewildered by the senselessness of the whole thing. Three high school boys were charged with the crime.

The incident caused a tremendous uproar in our little town. The violence which had ravaged the shelter became the subject of intense debate: Some felt the victims were “just cats,” so what was the big deal? While others, outraged animal lovers, demanded justice.

I felt dazed, trapped in a bad dream that wasn’t going away. Nothing could bring back the cats who had died. As we went about the sad business of looking for the terrified cats who had escaped to hide and caring for the traumatized and injured cats who remained, I mourned for my friends, especially Freddy.

It was a few days later, as I was stepping out of the house, that I saw a large gray Persian coming slowly towards me. I scared us both by yelling, “Freddy!” at the top of my lungs. It couldn’t be—but it was. He was wobbly and shaken, no longer the suave and debonair greeter of old, but he was alive! I scooped him up into my arms and held him to my chest, my tears falling on his head as I hugged and stroked him. Freddy had come back.

In the chaos of that terrible morning, I had confused Freddy with another gray Persian, lying dead, half-hidden by a towel, on the burial cart. Freddy had been one of the lucky ones to make it outside and escape the others’ appalling fate.

Miraculously, it took only a few weeks for Freddy to come around. Eventually, he even resumed his duties as official greeter.

In my grief after the incident, I had felt like giving up—I just hadn’t had the heart to continue. It was the gray cat’s courage and willingness to trust again that helped to mend my own shattered spirit. Ultimately, my love for Freddy and others like him made me decide to continue Noah’s Ark’s life-saving rescue work in spite of what had happened.

For years afterward, if you visited our shelter, you were greeted by a large and confident gray cat walking proudly forward to meet you. His green eyes missed nothing as he inspected you from head to toe. If you passed muster, then you might feel his large bulk pressing affectionately against your shins. For the Captain, I am happy to report, it was business as usual.

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