Puppy mills have a reputation for keeping canines in horrific conditions and denying animals their basic needs. However, the cruelty these pet farms commit isn’t just reserved for dogs. When kitten Athena was found at one of these barbaric farms, for example, she was in such a state that vets suggested she should be put down.
In fall 2014 the Humane Society of America had attended to a report of a suspected puppy mill in Rutherford County, North Carolina. The animal protection organization works to put an end to these commercial dog breeding businesses, which have been known to put profit before animal welfare.
And in this particular case, the Humane Society was made aware of the suspected puppy mill after authorities responded to a complaint about the property and noticed animals living in complete squalor. The local sheriff’s department then learned that the property owner was selling puppies online.
With no time to lose, then, the Humane Society along with other animal rescue organizations in the area were called in to assist the authorities with the removal of the animals. But when the rescuers arrived at the mill, what they found was despicable. Over 50 dogs and six cats were being forced to live in their own filth.
The dogs in particular were suffering from a number of untreated ailments, including visible eye and ear infections. “It’s frustrating to see these animals living in such horrific conditions,” Lieutenant Leon Godlock, who was on the scene, said in a 2014 press release for the Humane Society. And the conditions the cats were living in were just as diabolical.
“Looking into the cat room, it was like a small house of horrors,” the Humane Society’s Kim Alboum said in a video report of the rescue that the organization posted on YouTube. “There were cobwebs hanging all over and barren cages that had feces and old, moldy food caked on.” Among that devastating scene, meanwhile, rescuers found little Athena.
And when help finally got to the white kitten, the rescuers could see that she was clearly suffering. In particular, Athena had upper respiratory issues and a severe eye infection – the latter of which often occurs as a result of overbreeding. Flat-faced cats like Athena are more susceptible to these types of illnesses, and in Athena they were so severe that the poor kitten could barely breathe.
What’s worse is that it seemed that the little puss had simply accepted her tragic lot in life. “She thought that’s what life was supposed to be like. She didn’t know any better,” Alboum revealed. However, for all her problems, it was clear to see that Athena was a fighter.
Fortunately, and like the other animals found at the mill that day, Athena was transported to safety. The cat was taken to Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, where she was looked over by a team of veterinarians. “When Athena came to Brother Wolf initially she was very, very sick,” said Denise Bitz from the shelter.
In fact, Athena was so sick that one vet recommended she was put down. But, humbled by her fighting spirit, her carers decided to do what they could for the furry feline. As a result, then, they sought a second opinion from another vet. He had, it turned out, what seemed like an unconventional idea.
Specifically, the new vet thought that if he took Athena’s entire nose off, she would be able to breath properly and lead a normal life. “[It would] just cosmetically look weird,” Dani Ellis, Athena’s new owner, told The Dodo in December 2016. “[But, I thought] ‘Who cares?’”
Thankfully, though, the surgery was a success. “Athena is feeling so much better and is running around the house like a ‘crazy woman’ because she can breathe so much better since surgery,” her new owner posted on social media following the operation. “Many thanks to all of Athena’s supporters and to those who oppose puppy mills and the horrible conditions that these poor animals have to endure at the hands of their abusers.”
In fact, the little noseless kitten now lives a relatively normal life. However, she has had to get used to breathing through her mouth. “[That’s why] she keeps her tongue out all the time,” Ellis explained to The Dodo. But, considering the fate she could have been dealing with, many would say that was a small price to pay.
And after her tough start in life, Athena can finally enjoy being a normal animal. “She is the most loving cat I have ever met,” gushed Ellis. Looking at the confident cat she is today, then, it would be impossible to know the horrors Athena had experienced.
And while no creature should have to endure the things Athena went through, what makes matters even worse was that her former owner was already known to police. The woman had previously been charged for animal cruelty in 2002; her brush with the law, though, apparently didn’t stop her neglecting innocent creatures.
According to the Humane Society, one of the problems is the lack of regulation for breeding facilities in North Carolina. This means that Athena’s owner was able to run the mill despite her previous charges. And due to the lack of laws, the animal protection organization has called the state “a hotbed for some of the worst puppy mill operators in the country.”
Since her rescue, moreover, Athena has become a sort of symbol of the fight for proper animal breeding regulations in North Carolina. The staff at Brother Wolf have even set the cute kitty up with a public profile on Facebook, which has in turn garnered her many new fans.
“Like all of us at Brother Wolf, Athena believes North Carolina needs responsible legislation that mandates humane standards of care for all commercial breeding operations in our state,” reads her profile. “Tennessee and Virginia have puppy mill laws – even Missouri and West Virginia have puppy mill laws. So, what’s up with North Carolina legislators?”
As a result of Athena’s new-found public profile, then, she now spends her days raising awareness about the plight of other puppy mill animals who may not be as lucky as she was to get saved. And her new human friend couldn’t be happier about it. “I feel like a proud mom,” Ellis admitted in a 2015 video update by the Humane Society. “She is saving kittens and puppies.”
So while there’s no excusing what happened to Athena and the other animals found with her, perhaps some good will come from her story. By raising awareness of the true horrors of puppy mills, hopefully in the future no other animal will have to go through the same things she did. And, until then, this sassy cat will continue to fight for the rights of others who share her experiences.