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Fragments 20

Bernice, from Wisconsin
Dutchess, from Illinois

Hopeful outcomes from tales of survival

Bernice: Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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Bernice, the badly burned cat from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA In mid-July 2011 a young female cat was found severely burned on a street on Oshkosh, a city in the state of Wisconsin, USA. There had been no reports of any fires or blazes anywhere nearby at the time, and although no perpetrator has been found, it looked very much as though the animal had been subject to a deliberate, cruel and callous act.

She was taken to the Oshkosh Area Humane Society and then to the Oshkosh Animal Hospital. Her eyebrows and whiskers were singed to her face and her ears were literally crisp; eventually it became apparent that she had burns on some 60 per cent of her body. She was bandaged from head to toe, as doctors tried their best to manage her pain while the healing process began. Often an animal so severely burned would have been put to sleep, but her doctors said she seemed to be a warm and loving soul and showed such a fighting spirit and strong will to live that she deserved to be given a chance. Staff named her Bernice. So many people were shocked by what had happened to her that numerous donations have been made towards her treatment, and her progress is followed by a large number of fans and admirers. There is also a fund for a reward to go to anyone who can find out who was responsible for her plight.

Bernice the cat - Oshkosh, Wisconsin In the first few weeks she made remarkable progress. One of the hospital staff working with her made a video recording her treatment and progress — it's very sensitively done, but be warned: it's not comfortable viewing. By mid-August her doctor and 'special care person', Becky Bosetski, was writing an interesting and optimistic assessment, although she warned of possible future problems, and said Bernice's fur will probably not grow back on the most severely burned areas. She will need a very special home; and Dr Bosetski said that before any future surgery is carried out it would be important to assess its impact on the cat and how she would cope with it, and not just go ahead 'because it could be done'.

Bernice the cat with her friend George - Oshkosh, Wisconsin In late August the hospital released a short video showing Bernice playing and behaving like a cat. (NB 2023: we can no longer access this clip and it's marked 'Private', but maybe others will have more luck.) By late October 2011 considerable further progress had been made and Bernice was eating well, looking much better and still enjoying a play.

Bernice the cat playing, March 2012 She had a white cat friend called George, and plenty of animal soft toys, of which her favourite was a purple teddy bear. There are some pictures of Bernice with her toys, and with George, at the Life with Cats site. She was reported to be suffering from a little 'cabin fever', but a later report from the Humane Society (early December 2011) brought the news that 'Dr Becky' was on maternity leave, having given birth to a baby girl, and that Bernice was spending most of her time between Dr Becky's house and that of her vet technician Dyan. She thus spent the 2011 Christmas holidays outside the clinic, and enjoyed her time with the families. There's an amusing short clip of another cat, called Ozzy, watching a video of Bernice playing, at YouTube.

Bernice the cat Bernice the cat By March 2012 further news and images showed remarkable progress. It was reported that Bernice wouldn't be put up for adoption; rather, she'd be going to live with a member of the Oshkosh Animal Hospital staff.

Later in the year the hospital stopped giving regular reports, and by the end of 2012 Bernice had 'retired from the limelight and was living happily with her family'. There's a Facebook group which seems to be run by some of her fans, with comments and pictures.

At the start of 2014 Bernice returned to the hospital to make an update film, and seemed 'full of beans' as she explored the room while the presenters revisited her story and treatment — Bernice and Her Amazing Will to Live. In 2018 we could find no more recent news of her.


In early 2023 the Facebook group remained operational (link above) but had no direct news of Bernice herself; members were still wondering how she was faring. The last direct news about her from the Animal Hospital of Oshkosh had said in 2017, 'Bernice is doing so well! She is a healthy, beloved, happy princess. She has a loving family with kids who love her so much! Of course she has scars, but they are her badge of strength for beating the odds.'

Dutchess: Saybrook, Illinois

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Dutchess the burned cat from Illinois, before the fire Dutchess the cat, severely burned in a house fire In September 2012 Dutchess, of Saybrook, Illinois in the USA, was rescued from a house fire that destroyed her family's home and all their possessions; the family dog also died. Dutchess was found taking refuge under a sofa, but was badly burned and wasn't expected to survive. However, like Bernice whose story is above, the 6-month-old cat showed tremendous resilience and a strong will to live. Wrapped in a wet towel, she was taken to Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue, and then a few days later to the University of Illinois' Small Animal Clinic. The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Illinois Vet News of October 2012 said: 'She has been lovable and purring through all of her treatments and has stolen the hearts of all who work with her.'

Dutchess the cat being cared for by the veterinary team Dutchess the cat, from Saybrook, Illinois Owing to the extent of her burns — on face, chest, torso, legs and paws, and with a flea collar melted into her skin — she was having trouble breathing, because of smoke and debris on her lungs, and the possibility of infection was a concern. Her eyes also needed attention. Owner Jackie Jones's insurance did not cover Dutchess's treatment, so a Facebook page was started by Toni Day, one of the firefighters who had helped to rescue her, to share the kitten's story and invite donations for her care, which cost around 110 US dollars (some £70) a day. A goal of 5,000 dollars was set; when that had been raised any further donations were used to replenish the University's emergency fund, from which the University had given 500 dollars towards the treatment.

Dutchess the cat, with a gift Dutchess the cat, back home Dutchess stayed at the U. of I. until early January of 2013, when she was allowed home — with Toni and her partner Christy — which she shared with four other cats and kittens and two dogs. Original owner Jackie could visit and spend time with Dutchess whenever she wanted. Of course Dutchess needed ongoing care, but as of April 2013 she was recovering well, expected to retain much of her vision and eventually return to a normal life, and she endeared herself to her caregivers with her sweet and loving personality. She had orthopaedic surgery to correct some issues with her paws, as she was having some difficulty in walking normally. Her progress could be followed, and of course there were numerous images and video clips, at the Facebook page where Toni and Christy provided updates and photos.


Dutchess enjoying a spot in the sun, 2018 2019: Dutchess was living happily in her 'forever' home; the Facebook page (link above) continued to be operational and there were some recent images of her looking very content.

2022: After nearly 10 years enjoying her life with Toni Day, one of the firefighters who rescued her from a devastating house fire in 2012, by November 2022 Dutchess� health was failing and it was felt it was time to let her go. As Toni said, 'She used a lot of lives just to keep on living.' She was put to sleep peacefully at home on 11 November. There were many heartfelt tributes on her Facebook page.

Other links

In our Famous Felines section, also read about Scarlett, the feline heroine who rescued her kittens from a blaze,
and survived terrible burns to happily live out the rest of her life in a loving home.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page, and your companion through Feline Fragments, is Maggie. She came as a kitten from Powys Cat Rescue. One of their volunteers had seen her wandering around, apparently uncared for, and thought her rather young to be just left to roam. The person 'responsible' for her said she 'didn't care', and so the youngster was taken in for rehoming. Only about 4 months old when I brought her home in 2003, she was a self-assured soul, probably because of her early experience, and was soon climbing all the available trees in the garden. She was a determined hunter in her earlier days, and was usually outside, but now prefers snoozing unless the weather is good. She has superb whiskers — and as the photo shows, loves getting into things! (see it here without the puzzle effect)

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