When Dexter was but a tiny, 3-week-old kitten, he was shot with a BB gun, doused with fuel, and set on fire.
The person who did it was never caught.
But thanks to the loving care of Chandler resident April Hahnfeldt, Dexter survived and is now a loving, playful pet. On Oct. 24, Dexter received an “animal hero” award from the nonprofit Friends of Animal Care & Control at the group’s seventh annual PetSmart Hero Awards in Phoenix.
Dexter was found last Thanksgiving, when a good Samaritan discovered him in Tucson and turned him over to Pima Animal Care & Control, said Hahnfeldt, a work force analyst with Endurance International. At the time, the kitten was “smaller than a can of Red Bull,” she said.
With second- and third-degree burns all over his body, he wasn’t expected to live and was going to be euthanized, Hahnfeldt said. When veterinarians attempted to administer intravenous fluids, Dexter’s skin would peel off, she said.
“He smelled like death. Like rotting, burning flesh,” she said.
Hahnfeldt, a volunteer with the Finding Fido animal rescue group, learned about Dexter from a friend at the group’s Tucson branch. The kitten had been featured on local news reports.
“I told her I want that cat,” she said.
Dexter arrived singed and scabby, and missing part of an ear, she said. At first, she had to follow him around with baby wipes because the trauma left him unable to control his bowels. He’s since learned to use the litter box — most of the time, she said.
“I went through so much with him, I could never let him go,” Hahnfeldt said. “I’d stay up all night with him.”
Melissa Gable, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Animal Care & Control, said last month’s award ceremony, which featured several other animal heroes alongside Dexter, attracted about 350 people and raised about $220,000 in donations. The money will be used to fund Maricopa County’s spay and neuter program, she said.
The awards are aimed at honoring animals that have been the victims of extreme violence and cruelty, those that provide an unusual public service and those that have helped to improve or save lives, Gable said.
Dexter has flourished in Hahnfeldt’s Chandler home near Elliot Road and Loop 101, alongside the several cats, a dog and a ferret that she fosters. These days, his coat of beige fur with black stripes has grown back, and it’s hard to tell that he went through such suffering.
“Anyone who went through what he went through would have some kind of emotional scarring and trust issues. He has none,” Hahnfeldt said. “He’s a really, really affectionate little guy. He loves everyone.”