Gainesville is famed as the home of the University of Florida, and is the largest city in the north-central region of the state, with a population of more than a quarter of a million people. So when Hurricane Irma started brewing in the Atlantic Ocean in late August 2017, there was scope for a major disaster in the city. Subsequently, when the weather system started moving north towards the mainland, Floridians were told to take action or risk their lives. In Gainesville, however, there was one tiny citizen who never got to hear the warning, with almost fatal results…
People hadn’t seen a storm in the Atlantic this strong, or on this scale, for more than ten years. Not since Hurricane Wilma had come a-calling in 2005 had weather caused such consternation. Having already ravaged areas in the Caribbean, where at least 27 people had lost their lives, Hurricane Irma headed in the direction of Florida.
Irma struck the state hard on September 10 and left almost five million of the state’s residents without electricity. Vicious winds blew at about 85 miles per hour, speeds more than capable of felling large trees. Tragically, 92 Florida residents died as a result of Irma. It was later estimated that the damage caused by the category-four storm was in excess of $80 billion. In the aftermath, homes in the state were underwater, streets were flooded and power lines had been brought down.
State authorities warned that it could take a very long time for full power to be restored. This left some Florida homeowners facing weeks of camping out in their homes by candlelight. And they were the lucky ones; some homes were destroyed beyond repair and up to 220,000 people had to relocate to temporary shelters.
One Florida home that was affected by the power outage was the Mitchell’s in Gainesville. Chad Mitchell waited until the storm had pretty much done its worst until he ventured out. On September 11, he took to his bicycle to see the damage Irma had wrought for himself. He planned to cycle for a few miles and assess the state of his community. One of Mitchell’s destinations was his local electricity substation – he was keen to know when his lights would be back on. However, the cyclist was brought up short near the corner of the power facility when he heard a weird, high-pitched squeaking sound.
Mitchell was worried that there was something wrong with his bike, so he got off to inspect it for a fault. But, if it was his bicycle that was making the squeak, Mitchell couldn’t find anything wrong. The puzzled man cast his eyes further afield in order to try and identify the source of the noise. That was when he saw a strange object lying next to the roadway.
To his astonishment, Mitchell realized it was a kitten that was sprawled out in the water-logged grass. The poor bedraggled thing looked completely lifeless. The rain-sodden animal’s paws were spread out wide and at first glance, Mitchell didn’t think it was breathing. It was an easy mistake to make, the baby cat was hardly moving. Mitchell assumed the soaked creature was dead – another tragic victim of Irma.
But when Mitchell took a closer look, he was in for another surprise. It was then that he realized the squeaking sound he had heard but couldn’t place was in fact coming from the kitten! Consequently, Mitchell sprang into action. He decided to get the little guy to warmth and safety as quickly as he could. He retrieved the kitten from its watery resting place and got back on his bike. Mitchell only had his baseball cap to hand, so he gently placed the poor little fella inside the headwear.
Mitchell sped back to his home, talking to the kitten all the way – hoping against hope that the baby boy would hang on in there. When Mitchell got home, his wife, Carre, heard the commotion. The Mitchell’s house had been boarded up to protect it against Irma and was in complete blackness. So Mrs Mitchell was using a flashlight, and she couldn’t believe what she saw in its beam.
There was her husband, cradling a tiny refugee from the storm in his baseball cap. With no power in the house, there wasn’t much the Mitchells could do to warm the new arrival. The couple dried the kitten thoroughly with towels and then wrapped him up cosy. The Mitchells spent a whole two hours trying to bring the poor pussy back to the land of the living. And their efforts were not in vain; gradually, the couple’s compassionate hard work began to pay off.
Talking later to cat lovers’ website Love Meow, Carre said, “He started to show more signs of life, perking up and meowing occasionally. He was about the size of a four-week-old kitten, but all of his teeth and his eyes had already changed colors.” The fact that his eyes had altered hue indicated that the kitten was in fact a wee bit older than this, but just small for his age.
Luckily the Mitchells were already pet owners, a human mom and dad to three cats and a dog. Consequently, they had something suitable on hand for the plucky pussycat survivor to eat. The kitten must have been starving, as even in its weakened state it made short work of some cat food mixed with water.
However, he was still suffering from the adverse effects of prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Unfortunately, even with some food in his belly, the poor pussy’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low number. The kitten was showing all the signs of hypothermia. His little legs could not even hold his meagre weight.
The caring couple whisked the feeble feline to a local vets. The animal doctor there was able to confirm the hypothermia hypothesis. They also estimated that the kitten was roughly six weeks old, despite his weight being a pitiful one pound. Other than this malnourishment and his hypothermia, the tiny chap was pronounced as healthy as could be expected in the circumstances.
The Mitchells then went above and beyond for their rescue kitten. They bought him some super-nutritional food and as a result he quickly put on weight over the next week. As Carre told Love Meow, “He’s gained four ounces! He hasn’t looked back since. Once he got all warmed up, his motor co-ordination came back, and now he’s playing with toys just like a normal kitten.”
It was an easy decision for the Mitchells to make; how could they not after what they had been through? The couple elected to adopt the kitten they had rescued and add another animal to their growing family. Now, with the Mitchell’s power back on, the little feller could look forward to living in a warm and loving home with his saviors – human and otherwise.
What better thing to do when welcoming him into the now seven-strong fold than give the tiny guy a name? The Mitchells deliberated, and then chose a very fitting name for a waif rescued in the aftermath of a storm. They called the kitten Cantore after the storm-chasing meteorologist Jim Cantore. Carre explained, “We named him Cantore because the eye of the hurricane came over Gainesville, and every Floridian knows that Jim Cantore is always right where the action of any storm is!”
According to Cantore, who came to fame on The Weather Channel, living in a beautiful part of the world such as Florida is the trade-off for the climactic dangers that come with it. Speaking to the Miami Herald newspaper in the aftermath of Irma, Cantore said, “Let’s face it. When you live in paradise, it’s the price you pay.”
Cantore the cat almost paid the ultimate price for his Hurricane Irma adventure. But just maybe it was a brush with destiny, as now he has the very real prospect of a happily-ever-after ending to his tale. Even so, Cantore may be forgiven if he wants to stay snuggled up safe and warm inside for the foreseeable future.
This kitten’s life was thrown into the balance by a brutal act of nature, but he certainly landed on his feet. Cantore could be living proof that cats have nine lives, but he was so lucky that the kind-hearted Mitchells were on hand to save one of them. After so much devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, it is good to be reminded of the stories with happy endings.