Adam, the torched kitten, may need all 9 lives With ear tips and tail amputated, he's vulnerable to infection -- burned back is an open wound Wednesday, July 18, 2007 It is difficult to quantify the will to live, but a tiny kitten that was set on fire and nearly burned to death is as good an example as any. Wrapped in towels in a cage at the Animal Hospital of Cotati, Adam, as the hospital staff calls him, is struggling to survive against all odds. The kitten was only 8 weeks old June 19 when two 15-year-old girls allegedly poured flammable liquid on him while he was trapped in a cage and lit a match. An 11-year-old boy and his friend saw the smoke and heard the cat shrieking amid what they described as the girls' laughter. They found the kitten cowering near death in bushes next to a creek and brought him to the apartment manager. The girls, whose names have not been released, were charged in Sonoma County Juvenile Court with felony cruelty to animals last week after an intensive search, a $10,000 reward fund and a Bay Area-wide furor. Little Adam purrs and bats playfully at toys in the dog-size cage inside the hospital and has free rein in the master bedroom or in a playpen at the home of head nurse Tina Wright, who takes him with her every night. But he is a long way from being out of danger. His tail and the tips of his ears had to be amputated, and his entire back is nothing but raw tissue, the skin having been burned completely off. "If left untreated, he would die," said Dr. Katheryn Hinkle, the head veterinarian and owner of the Animal Hospital. "He would get an infection. You can't have that much open skin and not get an infection. He is also very vulnerable to viral disease at this point." The kitten has already undergone two operations in which the surgeon stretched skin from his sides and partially covered the open wound on his back. He will need several more skin-stretching operations before the wound is closed, including grafts from other areas of his body. "Every week he's going to have some skin-grafting technique to close that big gap on his back," Hinkle said. "There's not enough skin on the sides to complete the job." Hinkle said it will take at least two more surgeries and possibly several months before Adam's exposed areas are covered. She said the most difficult part is the feline's rear end. "He's got pieces of his pelvic bone sticking out," she said. "The degree of injury is greater than our normal level of trauma that we care for," Hinkle said. "He's our most critical patient, and we're watching him constantly." Adam cannot leave his cage inside the hospital because of the danger of contamination, and nobody is allowed to touch him without gloves. His bandages are changed every morning at 7 a.m. He eats both dry and wet cat food except after surgery, when he is on an intravenous pump for 24 hours to monitor his intake of fluids, medicines and painkillers. "Monitoring the IV pump requires me to stay up all night," Wright said. "It is exactly like having an infant. I have to haul all the stuff back to work in a diaper bag." The kitten was one of six feral litter mates captured along with a male cat on a Santa Rosa farm and brought back to the trapper's apartment in the Apple Valley neighborhood. The plan was to get the cats spayed and neutered at Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County, an organization dedicated to controlling wild cat populations humanely. The cats were to be turned loose on the farm again after being sterilized. The trapper left three cages on his porch overnight, but the two containing the other five kittens were stolen. The male cat was left on the porch, and nobody knows for sure what happened to the other kittens. The barbarity Adam endured stunned and angered community leaders, who cite studies showing that young people who abuse animals are more likely to someday abuse people. "Hurting or terrorizing or torturing animals is one symptom of conduct disorder," said Lisa Boesky, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist, who specializes in identifying violent tendencies in juveniles. "We need to ask the question, 'Why did they do this?,' and then address that." The money and attention being lavished on Adam has angered many in the neighborhood, where a 16-year-old boy was killed a year ago to much less outrage. "The mentality here is: They can put up a reward for a burned cat, but they can't put up a reward for a kid who got killed," said Shawna Shaffer, the apartment manager who called for help after the kitten was brought to her office. "But we're talking (in both cases) about the way kids are being raised in this neighborhood." Some are questioning the decision to keep the cat alive at considerable expense instead of putting it out of its misery. The surgeries and care alone will probably total from $20,000 to $30,000, Hinkle said. Money is being raised by Forgotten Felines, and the veterinary surgeon, Lisa Alexander, has been operating pro bono. "He is fighting for his life, so we would never bail out on him at this point," Hinkle said. "This is what compassion looks like, what the children in that neighborhood need more of in their lives. "From my perspective, those girls need more help than this kitten. My goal for Adam is for him to be the poster child for what the community can do if it comes together." Adam's next surgery will probably be on Thursday or Friday. "In the end, he'll be adopted into a good home," said Wright, who also works for Forgotten Felines. "I have the option (to adopt him), but I try not to think too far ahead."