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'Zombie cat' is back above ground but may not go home

Bart rests at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on Wednesday, following his surgery Tuesday. He is expected to make a full recovery.

 [Humane Society of Tampa Bay]
Bart rests at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on Wednesday, following his surgery Tuesday. He is expected to make a full recovery. [Humane Society of Tampa Bay]
Published Jan. 31, 2015

TAMPA — The saga of Bart the "zombie cat" continues.

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay released a statement Friday, which said the organization will not return the cat to his owner, 52-year-old Ellis Hutson, as originally planned.

Nearly two weeks ago, Hutson said he found Bart after he was hit by a car, thought he was dead and asked a friend to bury him. Five days later, Bart showed up back home, injured but very much alive, and Hutson went to the Humane Society for help.

It now turns out that Hutson's neighbor, Dusty Albritton, posted a video about a week ago on YouTube that includes comments about Bart's condition before the burial. After seeing the video, Humane Society officials intend to find the 23-month-old cat a new home following his treatment.

Nearly three minutes into the video, 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, 25, said she "couldn't look at it."

"I was like, 'go get him and bury him somewhere,' " she said on the video. "(Hutson) said he wasn't gonna do it. He was gonna let Dave do it, and he moved him out of the way."

In the video, the cat is called "Markie'' because he likes to mark his territory.

Nash McCutchen, the Humane Society's marketing coordinator, said the organization believes the rest of Hutson's story to be true — that Bart was buried for about five days before returning home, and then Hutson sought help.

"What we're questioning is, was there a period of time where (Bart) could have received help before they knew for sure he was dead?" McCutchen said.

She said Hutson was not in the video. But in addition to his girlfriend's comments, McCutchen said the Humane Society has other concerns about Bart's living situation.

Bart was mainly an outdoor cat, and he wasn't vaccinated or neutered.

"We want Bart to be inside a home," she said, "and if he's inside a home, it could cause problems for him to be around a small child (Hutson has a daughter) who may not know how to handle him carefully."

McCutchen said the Humane Society has contacted Hillsborough County Animal Services.

Hutson wants to keep his cat.

"I don't agree with them trying to remove my cat from me," Hutson said. "I'm gonna do everything in my power to get him back. I didn't do anything wrong."

Hutson said when he found Bart, the cat was not moving. He said he took a photo to show his girlfriend and moved him to the shoulder of the street. He said she was not there to see Bart.

"If Bart would've had any life in him, I would've taken him in my truck to the Humane Society," he said. "I removed an animal out of the road. I would've done it for any animal, not only my animal."

Hutson also said his 29-month-old daughter has known Bart since his birth.

"She was raised up with those cats," Hutson said. "I mean, this is crazy. It's making no sense."

Hutson said he was grateful for the Humane Society, which he called "outstanding." But "of course I want him back. He's our family pet."

Another wrinkle in the feline fiasco involves a GoFundMe account set up by Hutson's neighbor, Albritton.

The account was intended to help Hutson pay for his share of the vet bill, which he believed would be about $1,100 after Save-A-Pet Medical Fund assistance.

It has raised about $7,000.

"From his surgery and beyond I had to pay for it," Hutson said. "They were just paying for his wound cleaning, his antibiotics and his pain medication: that was the agreement. Now they throw a roadblock on me and they don't even want me to pay the bill."

Humane Society executive director Sherry Silk said she had no knowledge of agreeing to a cost figure before taking in Bart.

"I can't tell you exactly what was said other than we told him not to worry about it," she said.

As the saga unravels, Albritton has been called a fraud on social media. "I feel bad because people think I'm the big bad person when in true reality I was only trying to help," Albritton said. "I'm not a monster."

Silk said Albritton's video is the main reason the organization won't be returning Bart. Hutson is his owner so "he is responsible."

McCutchen said the organization has fielded plenty of offers to adopt Bart.

"We don't doubt Mr. Hutson's affection for this cat, but at this point that's not the most important thing," she said. "The most important thing is what's best for the cat."

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @rachelacrosby.