TAMPA — They call him Bart the Zombie Cat.
In January 2015, he famously clawed his way out of a roadside grave after his owners assumed him dead.
Today, the feline who proved cats really may have nine lives is getting a new home following a 20-month legal battle between the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and the man who raised Bart and found him "dead" in the street.
A settlement just reached gave the Humane Society custody, allowing it to put Bart up for adoption on Wednesday, said the group's marketing coordinator Nash McCutchen.
McCutchen said the cat's new owner is a long-time staffer who asked to be kept anonymous out of "fear of retaliation." The group plans a party Wednesday when the adoption is official at 1 p.m.
"This cat had a will to live," McCutchen said. "He was not going down without a fight. It took him months to recover. He was depressed, couldn't eat well and a lot of other animals may have just given up. He didn't."
Bart was hit by a car. The accident left much of his face shattered. He had to have his jaw wired shut and his left eye removed. Now Bart, who veterinarians guess is about 2 1/2 years old, has a reconstructed face.
While Bart was fighting for his life, Ellis Hutson, the man who raised him, was fighting to get him back.
Hutson said he had a neighbor bury the cat. But five days after he thought Bart had died, the cat returned home looking for food.
Hutson called the Humane Society seeking care for the dehydrated and battered Bart. The organization helped him set up care and payment plans — until members saw a video that made them question whether they should return the cat to Hutson.
A neighbor posted the video, in which Hutson's girlfriend, Candice Mclendon, can be heard saying, "He might not have been dead. 'Cause when I found him ... he was moving and stuff."
Mclendon goes on to say she "couldn't look at it," though Hutson has said Mclendon was not present when he found Bart.
Once the Humane Society decided to revoke Hutson's custody, he fired back with a lawsuit.
Hutson was not available for comment Wednesday. In a February 2015 interview, describing his decision to sue, he said, "This is a pet that was born in the bottom of our dresser drawer. All I want is my family cat back."
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McCutchen said the staffer adopting Bart has long loved the cat — even if his mouth injuries make him drool more than the average kitty.
He's learned how to eat with his new jaw, doubled his weight from an emaciated 7 pounds, and has grown playful, no longer depressed like he was when the Humane Society first met him, McCutchen said.
"Now, he actually eats too much," she said with a chuckle. "He's a little chubby."
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.