David Giannelli, noticed Scarlett carrying her kittens away from the garage one by one. Scarlett herself had been severely burned in the process of pulling her kittens from the fire. Her eyes were blistered shut, her ears and paws burned, and her coat highly singed.
This cat might have a bigger heart than some humans. Meet Scarlett the cat who became a world famous mother in 1996 when she selflessly walked through flames to rescue all five of her kittens from a burning building.
Scarlett’s sire and dam are unknown. She was probably born in June or July 1995. As a stray cat, Scarlett probably had her first litter at about eight months. If the kittens were her first litter, she was probably about nine months old—the equivalent of the early teens for humans—when she became a heroine.
On March 30, 1996, Scarlett and her five kittens were in an abandoned garage allegedly used as a crack house in Brooklyn when a fire started. The New York City Fire Department responded to a call about the fire and quickly extinguished it. When the fire was under control, one of the firefighters on the scene, David Giannelli, noticed Scarlett carrying her kittens away from the garage one by one. Scarlett herself had been severely burned in the process of pulling her kittens from the fire. Her eyes were blistered shut, her ears and paws burned, and her coat highly singed. The majority of her facial hair had been burnt away. After saving the kittens she was seen to touch each of her kittens with her nose to ensure they were all there and alive, as the blisters on her eyes kept her from being able to see them, and then she collapsed unconscious.
Gianelli took the intact family to a veterinary clinic at the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York where Scarlett and her kittens were treated. The weakest of the kittens, a white-coated, died of a virus a month after the fire. However, after three months of treatment and recovery, Scarlett and her surviving kittens were well enough to be adopted.
The story of this feline mother’s heroic efforts to save her kittens attracted international media attention, and the clinic received approximately 7,000 letters offering to adopt Scarlett and her kittens. The clinic ultimately chose to divide the kittens into two pairs and the pairs were given over for adoption to residents of Long Island. Scarlett herself was adopted by Karen Wellen. In her letter, Wellen indicated that, as a result of losing her cat shortly after being injured in a traffic accident herself, she had become more compassionate and would take in only animals with special needs.
Scarlett died on October 11, 2008, while with her adoptive family in Brooklyn. She required ongoing care as a result of her injuries, and shortly before her death she was diagnosed with a heart murmur. She later died of multiple illnesses. The North Shore Animal League has created an award named the Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism, in Scarlett’s honor. This award is presented to animals that have engaged in heroic acts to benefit others, whether humans or other animals.
She is living proof of the strength and willpower of motherly love.
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