As the president of a busy rescue shelter in Florida, Megan Sorbara was hardened to seeing extreme signs of all kinds of abuse on the unfortunate animals admitted into her facility. Which is why the 49-year-old was so confused when animal control officers presented her with a perfectly healthy cat in mid-2017. However, on closer inspection, the animal lover saw that the feline’s paws had been colored purple. It came as a physical shock; Sorbara’s heart broke and she was sickened to her stomach.
Sorbara founded the non-profit charity Naples Cat Alliance in her hometown in 2013. Since then, the organization based on the Gulf of Mexico has operated a no-kill animal shelter which rescues injured or neglected cats and re-homes strays. In addition, it operates a Trap-Neuter-Return program to control stray cat numbers.
To this end, Naples Cat Alliance volunteers capture feral felines, run full health checks on them and dispense any necessary vaccinations. A professional veterinarian then sterilizes the captured cats before re-release so that they are unable to contribute further to the homeless feline population of southwest Florida. However, these animals are not just forgotten about and left to fend for themselves afterwards.
Indeed, as the organization explains on its Facebook community page, “Kittens and tame cats are adopted. Healthy adult cats too wild to be adopted are returned to their familiar habitat under the lifelong care of volunteers.” As a result of her dedication and devotion to Florida’s street cats, Sorbara’s name has been spread far and wide.
Perhaps this was the reason she was approached on May 14, 2017, by animal welfare officers based 100 miles away. Sorbara later shared the story via social media with a particularly heart-rending Facebook post concerning the homeless cat in question. And the appalling tale had obviously hit the veteran animal rescuer very hard.
It all began when Clewiston Animal Control picked up a stray male cat on the streets. Despite being based a two-hour drive away on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the Clewiston operatives brought the homeless feline to the Naples Cat Alliance and into Sorbara’s care. But the strangest thing was that the moggie looked well and healthy.
Nevertheless, when Sorbara took a closer look at the new arrival, it revealed something even stranger – his paws were purple. Someone had spread the color over all four of his feet and daubed a stripe down his head. However, not only did Sorbara know what the markings meant, but they also made the color drain from her face.
Sorbara went on to explain what the colors signified in her Facebook update. “Being in animal rescue, you hear and read about a lot of terrible things being done to poor innocent animals,” she wrote. “And then one day, the victim of one of these terrible things shows up at your door.”
And, in May 2017, it appeared that day had arrived. “I consider myself pretty hardened to a lot of stuff,” Sorbara continued. “I have dealt with a lot of injured, emaciated, neglected and abused animals, but this one really got to me. By all accounts he looks good, good weight, nice coat; but the purple paws tell the story.”
The purple markings were a tell-tale sign that the captured cat had experienced a lucky escape from a dogfighting ring. Illegal in every U.S. state, this barbaric bloodsport forces two or more dogs to fight one another. Usually, this cruel crime is carried out for the entertainment of unscrupulous spectators who gamble on the outcome.
Sadly, dogfights only end when one of the canine competitors either flees, becomes physically incapable of carrying on or dies. Alternatively, the dog’s owner may submit the fight. However, if a fighting dog loses, its heartless human may decide to kill the animal – often through totally inhumane methods.
Furthermore, it is not just the fights themselves that are utterly savage – the training is also unbelievably callous. To be more specific, the horrific practice involves the use of bait animals. Dog-fight trainers throw smaller canines, rabbits, cats or even kittens to the combative canines to test their bloodlust.
Needless to say, it is not uncommon for bait animals to get grievously wounded or even killed during a dog’s training. What’s more, these hapless bait victims are sometimes former shelter animals or stolen pets. In fact, some unwitting owners even give up their unwanted animals to dog fighters voluntarily, thinking that their pets are going to a good home.
Sorbara reported on Facebook that colored areas on a feline signify them as bait animals. Nauseatingly, they are identifying marks which enable a secondary betting market. “Dog fighters use markers to color the white parts of cats and kittens,” the president explained. “So they can bet on which color will die first.”
Beneath a picture of the painted puss in question, Sorbara continued, “They are ‘color-coded’ and then thrown to packs of dogs, while these sick barbarians place their bets.” The sickened woman concluded, “This is cruelty at its worst.” Sorbara firmly believed that was why the cat she had named Mr. Purple Paws was sporting colored feet. Moreover, the animal advocate thought there was a distinct possibility that he had been a pet before being snatched by a dog-fighting crew.
And she said as much in an interview with animal interest website The Dodo on May 17. “He could have been a cat who was owned, but they were just letting him free-roam,” Sorbara said. “I can’t imagine he was handled too nicely by these people when they were marking him. But I don’t really know what he was subjected to prior.”
Nor does anyone know how Mr. Purple Paws managed to escape his terrible fate. However, his eventual savior had a couple of ideas. “Somebody must have left a door open,” Sorbara suggested. “Or maybe he got away during transport while they’re going wherever they go to have these fights in the middle of the night.”
Regardless of how he made his great escape, Mr. Purple Paws must have used one of his nine lives to get away unscathed. And, unbelievably, his ordeal did not seem to affect his attitude towards human beings. In fact, the moggie’s happy nature won over everyone at the Naples Cat Alliance shelter. Sorbara told The Dodo, “He’s just so sweet, rolling over on his back and giving head butts – just adorable.”
Thankfully, it seemed that Mr. Purple Paws was now in his element. “He doesn’t have a care in the world,” Sorbara continued. “He’s Mr. Happy. He was playing with toys in his cage last night. You can just pick him up, carry him around on your shoulder – he likes to be held.”
With such an affectionate nature, it was only a matter of time before someone adopted Mr. Purple Paws. In fact, on May 30, 2017 – just one week after his admission to the shelter – the Naples Cat Alliance posted a list of recent adoptions on its Facebook page. And, sure enough, one of them was Mr. Purple Paws pictured with his lucky new human.