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Scarlett and her owner, Karen

Scarlett was a former feral cat from Brooklyn, New York, whose efforts to save her kittens from a fire, attracted worldwide media attention and has been related in a number of non-fiction books. She has also become one of the animals featured by the shelter which treated her and her kittens, the North Shore Animal League, in its fund-raising and public relations efforts. On October 15, 2008, the League announced that Scarlett had died.[1]


Scarlett's sire and dam are unknown. She was probably born in June or July 1995.[citation needed] Female domestic cats are fertile from six months of age; their gestation period is about two months. As a stray cat, Scarlett probably had her first litter at about eight months old.[citation needed] If the kittens were her first litter, she was probably about nine months old, the equivalent of the early teens, when she became a heroine.

The fire

On March 30, 1996, Scarlett was in an abandoned garage allegedly used as a crack house in Brooklyn, with her five kittens when a fire started for undetermined reasons. The fire department responded to a call about the fire and quickly extinguished it. When the fire was under control, one of the firefighters on the scene, David Giannelli, noticed Scarlett carrying her kittens away from the garage one by one. Scarlett herself had been severely burned in the process of pulling her kittens from the fire. Her eyes were blistered shut, her ears and paws burned and her coat highly singed. The majority of facial hair was found to be burnt away. After saving the kittens, she was seen to touch each of her kittens with her nose to ensure they were all there and alive, as the blisters on her eyes kept her from being able to see them, and then collapsed unconscious.


Gianelli took the intact family to a veterinary clinic at the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York, where Scarlett and her kittens were treated. The weakest of the kittens, a white coated, died of a virus a month after the fire. However, after three months of treatment and recovery, Scarlett and her surviving kittens were well enough to be adopted, during which time one of the staff of the clinic stated that Scarlett was "spoiled rotten and treated like a queen".

International media

The story of this feline mother's heroic efforts to save her kittens attracted international media attention, and the clinic received approximately 7,000 letters offering to adopt Scarlett and her kittens. The clinic ultimately chose to divide the kittens into two pairs, and the pairs were given over for adoption to residents of Long Island. Scarlett herself was adopted by Karen Wellen. In her letter, Wellen indicated that, as a result of losing her cat shortly after being injured in a traffic accident herself, she had become more compassionate and would take in only animals with special needs.


Scarlett died on October 11, 2008,[2] while with her adoptive family in Brooklyn. She required ongoing care as a result of her injuries, and shortly before her death, she was diagnosed with a heart murmur. She eventually died of multiple illnesses.[3]

The Scarlett Award

The North Shore Animal League has formed an award named the Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism, in Scarlett's honor. This award is presented to animals that have engaged in heroic acts to benefit others, whether humans or animals.

See also


Further reading

  • Driscoll, Laura (1997). The Bravest Cat!: The True Story of Scarlett. illus. DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0-448-41720-0. 
  • Martin, Jane; and J. C. Suarès (1997). Scarlett Saves Her Family: The Heart-warming True Story of a Homeless Mother Cat Who Rescued Her Kittens From a Raging Fire. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84288-2. 
  • Weinstein, Emily Eve (2002). Cat Book. Huntington, W.V.: Beau Soleil. ISBN 0-9666085-8-5. 

External links



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