On November 10, 2013, in the Olney section of Philadelphia, two men summoned a friendly stray gray-and-white cat. But instead of petting or feeding him, the men doused the cat with an accelerant and lit him on fire. Thanks to a vigilant neighbor who saw him running down the street with flames engulfing his body, the cat, Campbell, was rescued by the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA).
After a three-week recovery period, PSPCA veterinarians Dr. Lisa Germanis and Dr. JoEllen Bruinooge referred Campbell to Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, where he was diagnosed with severe burn wounds over 60-65 percent of his body. The cat would require more intensive, surgical care, as the skin on his head and back had started to slough off and these areas had become severely infected.
Under the care of Penn Vet’s soft-tissue surgeons Dr. Chloe Wormser and Dr. Lillian Aronson, Campbell underwent multiple surgeries to remove dead, damaged, and infected tissue and to reconstruct the skin. Because cats have plenty of loose skin, Drs. Wormser and Aronson were able to pull skin flaps over the debrided tissue and sew it together to reconstruct Campbell’s back and neck area. It would be a long journey for Campbell, but thanks to his Penn Vet surgical team and the compassionate round-the-clock care from Ryan Hospital’s nursing staff, interns, residents, and students, he pulled through.
But what would become of Campbell once he was ready to be discharged? In an uncanny twist of fate, the cat would meet his human counterpart, a Philadelphia firefighter from Engine Company 45 in Strawberry Mansion. In an effort to publicize the horrific attack and catch the perpetrators, PSPCA staff posted photos of Campbell on their website and social media channels soon after he arrived in their care. Lieutenant Stephen Paslawski, a 14-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department, was one of the first to respond.
“When I saw the story about Campbell,” Paslawski said, “I was disgusted that anyone could do this to an animal.” Paslawski had just lost one of his two cats as a result of a large, inoperable tumor. He described his first meeting with Campbell as “amazing.”
“With me being a firefighter, Campbell being burned, and the loss of my other cat, it just seemed like a perfect fit," Paslawski said. “After a few minutes of petting him, Campbell put his paws on me and climbed onto my shoulder as if to say, ‘I choose you.’ I knew right then it was meant to be. He’ll have a loving home for the rest of his life.”
Thanks to the diligent work of PSPCA Director of Humane Law Enforcement George Bengal and his team, two men were apprehended and have been charged with animal cruelty for setting Campbell on fire, as well as criminal conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime. The suspects could face up to 10 years in jail.
If you would like to follow Campbell’s progress, you can do so by ‘liking’ his Facebook page.