A sick cat, tied up in a bag and left for dead in the back of a garbage truck, has a brighter future today thanks to a caring chain of people in southwestern Manitoba.
It started with Ron Vandaele, who got made an unexpected discovery last Tuesday. He had just closed up the pool hall in the southwestern Manitoba town of Deloraine — about 250 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg — and was throwing trash in the back of a garbage truck parked by the local fire hall.
Then he noticed one of the garbage bags that was already in the truck move.
"I didn't really know what was in the bag until it meowed," he says. "And so I got a stick, and I pulled the bag toward me and the bag was tied shut."
Vandaele broke the bag open and out came a dirty little cat. "It sort of sat there for a while. It kind of looked around, like I think it was disoriented or something," Vandaele said. He gave the cat a little scratch on the head, and it wandered off.
Vandaele says when he first heard the meow, he thought the cat had climbed into the truck to find something to eat. But when he noticed the bag was tied up tight, he knew it was a deliberate act of cruelty.
"I really thought it was pretty sick," he says. "I don't understand people for doing something like that."
Word about Vandaele's find spread through town and the cat was spotted later Tuesday evening by another resident, Bonnie McDonald. She took a picture of it and posted its story on a local social media page. But before she could take it to the vet, the cat wandered off yet again.
But her posting made an impact. Michalla Smart showed the picture to her fiancé, Brandin Kotlarchuk.
"It had been bugging me. It just kind of made me sick," Smart said of the cruelty. "I was worried about him. I have three cats of my own already and we love animals. It's something that just kind of hit hard and I couldn't stop thinking about it."
So she was thrilled when on Saturday, Kotlarchuk called to say he'd spotted the cat in town, and was bringing it home — where Kotlarchuk named the cat Rex.
Smart says they immediately noticed his sweet nature, as he kept rubbing up against them. But she also noticed it was not well. "He looked like he'd been through hell and back," she says.
Smart took a video of the cat labouring to breathe but purring at the same time.
It was very thin, and was congested and sneezing so much it had blood stains under his nose.
"Just very roughed up," Smart said.
"One of his biggest issues is actually his teeth are completely shattered. So we're not exactly sure if it was done by a person, or a dog, or [because he was] just malnourished. But they're in pretty severe condition."
She called the Virden Pet Network rescue — an agency she and Kotlarchuk had adopted from before — for advice.
After speaking with director Kathy Heaman for a while, they decided to drive the cat to Virden, about 80 kilometres away, to see the rescue's vet, Dr. Gita Gunson.
Smart says it was a stressful ride.
"His stomach was completely coming in to work on his breath and his mouth was open — like, we weren't sure he was going to make it," she said.
"He wanted to be lying right in between both me and my fiance. Sometimes he'd be lying on my fiance, and other times he'd turn around and he'd lie on me. He just really wanted to know we were both there."
Gunson put the cat on antibiotics, special food and probiotics. But there was good news — nothing was broken besides Rex's teeth, which will be addressed soon. The cat, which Gunson estimates is about 18 months old, doesn't appear to have any chronic conditions.
A GoFundMe page aimed to raise $750 for Rex's care, but has already exceeded that amount. People have also been sending cheques directly to the rescue.
Kotlarchuk and Smart brought Rex home, and are now fostering the cat for the Virden Pet Network. But Smart says there is already a mutual love, and they may apply to adopt Rex.
She gets emotional when she talks about what the cat has been through.
"I don't know what in the world would go through someone's mind to do that to any animal at all, let alone one that sweet," she says.
"He's got to be one of the nicest pets I've ever come in contact with. And for someone to do that to him — I really hope that they're found and something is done. Because this is just awful. It would be bad enough to put a deceased cat in the garbage bag instead of burying it. But to put one alive, left for dead, it just really takes a very sick individual to do something like that."
Smart says she's not surprised that his first rescuer was Vandaele — a man known as "Moose" around town.
"He's just such a kind person," she says. "He's always helpful."
And Vandaele says he's pleased that the bedraggled little cat is in good hands. "I'm glad now it has found itself a good home and everything," he said.
"It was a nice little cat — really tame. It definitely wasn't a wild cat," he said.
"It deserves a break."