WATSONVILLE — For most of his young life, Horchata the cat has been a fixture at a mental health residential home, climbing under the covers to snuggle with residents, inviting himself in for hugs and often reluctant to go home. His own hand-knit blanket sits ready and waiting for when he pays a visit to the facility.
On the night of Jan. 3, however, the nearly 2-year-old roaming feline came staggering into the office of counselor Mary Hall’s office, unable to stand on his own and immediately falling to the ground when he tried to make his typical leap to the top of the filing cabinet.
“He was just so funny, he had such a personality. I’ve never met a cat like him before — he was so loud, like he knew what he was trying to tell you and could speak,” Hall said.
“That night, he came kind of struggling into the office (and) just this ominous vibe to took over me,” Hall added, her voice choking with emotion. “I took one look at him and I was like, something’s wrong. He’s not OK.”
Hall called Horchata’s owner, a resident at a neighborhood apartment complex on the 300 block of East Beach Street, to alert her to the emergency. Later, Hall found out that Horchata had three BB gun pellets lodged in his body, the most recent and potentially fatal shot piercing his chest cavity and quickly filling his lungs up with blood. Pellets in his elbow and forearm were older, according to the vet. Hall said she promised to do everything she could to help with the veterinarian bill and launched an online fundraiser that quickly pulled in thousands for Horchata’s expensive surgery and recovery care. The remaining proceeds were deposited in a trust for Horchata with the animal hospital in charge of his care, she said.
Horchata the cat has recovered from surgery in January to remove BB gun pellets from his body. Authorities are seeking additional information. (Contributed)
Horchata survived and is now an indoor stay-at-home cat, but two additional cats living in the same apartment complex were discovered last month with BB-pellet injuries. One had died from its wounds, according to Todd Stosuy, field services manager in animal control for Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter.
Now, animal advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is putting up a $5,000 reward for tips that help solve the case.
“Whoever shot these cats must be stopped before more animals endure the same hideous fate,” PETA Vice President Colleen O’Brien is quoted in a press release related to the reward. “PETA urges anyone with information to come forward immediately, and we recommend always keeping cats safe indoors.”
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Hall said that when she began working for the residential facility about a year ago, there were some 10 cats who regularly made the home’s grounds into their own private cat oasis. Now, only one remains — a 15-year-old cat that lives on the roof, she said.
“The facility that I work at, for some people there, that makes their day, being able to see the cats and build a relationship with them,” Hall said. “All of the residents named each of the feral cats that came. They were beloved and so it’s a tragedy because they were not just unknown cats.... It bothers me that there are people out here who think that they can just decide whether or not something is a pest.”
PETA officials, noting cats are “shot, poisoned and stolen by angry neighbors” across the country, urged their owners to give them “opportunities to explore the outdoors only under watchful human eyes.”
Stosuy said that in his 18 years on the job, he has typically seen reports of similar activity about once or twice a year, typically involving people who take the law into their own hands in addressing feral or free-roaming cats.
“That’s when it ends up becoming a crime, either a misdemeanor or a felony,” said Stosuy, who is investigating the Watsonville cat shootings. “The way we look at it, if someone’s intentionally shooting cats with a BB gun to cause intentional injury, in my mind, it raises the level to torture or tormenting, which would be a felony.”
Stosuy worried that someone repeatedly attempting to shoot cats could miss and hit a small child, adding, “at this point, they’re shooting at cats, but who’s to say they’re not going to shoot something else, next.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for reportedly shooting multiple cats with BB guns at an apartment complex at 327 and 331 E. Beach St. Call the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter at 831-454-7200 with tips.