PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y., Oct. 16 2008 - Scarlett, the cat, whose story of bravery, uncompromising love and triumph over all odds, has passed on. The heroine calico, who in 1996 made headlines around the world for pulling her five kittens to safety from a raging fire, lost her battle with multiple illnesses this week after living with her adoptive family in Brooklyn, New York for over 12 years.
Back in 1996, Scarlett was tending to her kittens in an abandoned Brooklyn garage when a fire broke out. Having extinguished the blaze, firefighters sighted the mother cat, slowly carrying her four-week old kittens from the building. Badly scorched, her ears radically burned, she lined up her babies. With her eyes blistered from the inferno, she was seen touching each with her nose, to reassure herself that her litter of five had made it to safety. She then collapsed unconscious.
Firefighter David Giannelli transported the little feline family to North Shore Animal League America where the mother, who was named Scarlett, and her kittens, were treated. The weakest of the kittens died of a virus one month after the blaze. However, after three months of treatment and recovery, Scarlett and her surviving babies were ready for adoption.
In the flurry of worldwide media attention to the heroic feline mother and her family, the Animal League received more than 7,000 inquiries about adopting Scarlett and her brood. Ultimately, the kittens were adopted in pairs and Scarlett herself was adopted out to Karen Wellen, whose story of losing her own cat, shortly after an accident in which she herself was injured, struck a chord at the Animal League. Wellen said her experience made her a more compassionate individual, and, if ever she was to adopt another cat, she wanted to devote herself to one with special needs.
Once in Wellen's care, Scarlett continued to be a media darling, capturing the attention of regional, national and international outlets as far away as Japan, and including the most powerful voices of CNN and Oprah Winfrey. She was the subject of numerous books and articles and appeared in the first aired segment of Animal Planet. She was even honored by Great Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Living in Wellen's Brooklyn home, Scarlett was a cherished family member, given run of the house and abundant love. "She was the most precious and loving cat, and in our household, it was all about Scarlett," said Wellen.
Scarlett, who required ongoing care as a result of her injuries, and who was diagnosed with a heart murmur during her recovery at the Animal League Veterinary Medical Center, became a Sponsor Pet, and the symbol of all the real and wonderful pets in the Animal League's care. She was the guest of honor at the Animal League's Christmas Tree Lighting and was a surprise for a little boy whose birthday wish was to meet her. The Animal League created an animal heroism award in her name and recently unveiled The Scarlett Room, an online site showcasing the animals in the organization's Sponsor Program. This month, National Geographic Kids' Magazine, circulated around the globe, honored Scarlett as one of its Ten Cool Cats.