ZEPHYRHILLS – Stripy the cat not only has his own bedroom, but his own en suite bathroom, too. There are fluffy towels on top of the counter, where he likes to snooze, and soft comforters in his room.
When he chooses, Stripy leaves his room to mingle with other cats like him — rescues with their own horrific stories, who found comfort and healing with Harvey and Nancy Carlisle. The couple built a huge screened-in lanai just for their cats, with a catnip garden, miniature kitty hammocks and a cat jungle gym.
"It's like a kitty wonderland," Nancy Carlisle said.
She calls Stripy a miracle.
His story never seemed like it would have a happy ending. Sometime between nightfall on March 22 and the following sunrise, Stripy was shot in the face with a .22-caliber bullet in downtown New Port Richey. The bullet entered under Stripy's chin, knocked out several of his teeth, sliced through his tongue and exited his cheek.
Chris and Rowena Hover, feral-cat activists who kept an eye on Stripy, found him terrified, dripping blood from his face. It took them three days to catch him to take him to the vet.
His tongue tissue was dying. The wounds were infected. He hadn't been able to eat or drink since he was shot. The vet put a feeding tube in Stripy's stomach and amputated half of his tongue. The vet said it was amazing Stripy didn't die.
Stripy was at the vet's clinic for nine days, then went home with the Hovers. He learned how to use his new, shorter tongue and began to eat on his own — heartily — and soon grew a chubby belly. This scared, feral cat quickly adapted to life indoors, surprising the Hovers.
"He was so content," Chris Hover said. "And so trusting of people."
Hover's own faith in humanity was shaken by the person — still uncaught — who fired at Stripy.
"You cannot go around shooting cats," he said. "This is not excusable."
But he was pleasantly surprised by all the people who came forward to help Stripy after his plight appeared in the Pasco Times and on other news reports. Donations poured into the vet's office to cover the more than $1,100 in medical bills for Stripy's care. As his story spread online, money came from all over the country: Maine, California.
"Total strangers," Hover said. "It's amazing."
More than a dozen people wanted to adopt Stripy. The Hovers already had plenty of cats and wanted to find Stripy a home with someone familiar with special-needs cats.
They created an application form. Carlisle, who learned about Stripy on the evening news, returned hers within hours.
Her husband is retired after 22 years with the Air Force. They moved to Zephyrhills a year ago from Illinois. She worked as a dental hygienist and then as a vet tech before retiring.
Almost all of their pets have stories of abuse. There's Mike, who was found on the side of the road as a kitten, his back legs damaged. He hops like a bunny. There's Gracie, who was found as a baby with her tail hanging off. It was amputated. Winston has allergies and seizures. Cha Cha has one kidney.
The Hovers made a home visit.
"It was obvious they were perfect for Stripy," Chris Hover said.
Stripy came to live with the Carlisles on April 20. Every day, he assimilates to the group more. He's learned how to suck water, since he can't lap it up. He even manages to groom himself with his new, short tongue.
"He is such an amazing cat," said Nancy Carlisle, who blogs about Stripy's progress. "If anybody should have a basic mistrust of humans, he should.
"But he doesn't."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.