BROOKSVILLE — Perhaps Hernando County's most famous and beloved resident — Dexter the kitten — died Monday, just two months after authorities say a pregnant woman and her two young sons beat and tortured the animal in a county park.
After the attack on him June 10, Dexter suffered seizures as a result of head trauma. For a time, those subsided, and he seemed to improve. He wobbled when he walked, and sometimes his tiny paws dragged against the ground. He was also partially blind, but doctors thought his chances to survive were good.
"He had a window of time where he was just a crazy, happy, goofy kitten," said Cathy Fitzgerald, manager at PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic in Brooksville, where Dexter had been cared for since the abuse. "It was wonderful. He lived life to the fullest."
Thousands of people on at least five continents closely followed his recovery. On its Facebook page, PetLuv had posted videos of Dexter's progress. The page's "likes" jumped from about 400 pre-Dexter to more than 3,000 as of this week. People had heard of him in places as far away as Uruguay, Laos and Oman.
Recently, however, his seizures returned. They were only occasional and brief until late Sunday night. By Monday morning, they became constant and showed no signs of stopping. Soon after, doctors euthanized him. Dexter was 16 weeks old.
"You could tell he was in pain. He was so scared," Fitzgerald said. "I'm heartbroken."
His now-viral story began at Hill 'n Dale Park, east of Brooksville, that afternoon in June. There, Hernando County sheriff's deputies say, Wilana Joenel Frazier, 24, beat a pair of kittens with a metal baseball bat and then allowed her two boys — one then 8 years old and the other 5 years old— to continue the torture. Four young witnesses told investigators that the boys kicked the animals, threw them and tried to slice open one's neck with a stick.
At the bottom of a trash can, one kitten died. Dexter lived.
Frazier, who has received hundreds of angry letters, adamantly denied touching the kittens and said the accusations have ruined her life.
About 1 p.m. that day, her fiance, Willie Bates, went to play in a basketball tournament at the park. Frazier avoided the heat and came to watch about 5 p.m.
Her sons and about 10 other kids saw a pair of kittens and ran off to play with them, Frazier said. She approached the children and told her boys to leave the kittens alone because they could be diseased.
About 7 p.m., she said she left with her kids. Two hours later, she heard that a deputy in the neighborhood wanted to speak with her older son, so Frazier drove him over. When the two were interviewed, both denied harming the kittens.
A short time later, she was arrested on two charges of cruelty to animals and two charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The case against Frazier is still in its early stages, said Assistant State Attorney Jason Smith. Her next court date is scheduled for Sept. 2.
More than 38,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that Frazier be prosecuted to the law's fullest extent.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432.