Dutchess: Sweet Survivor Burned Kitty One Year Later


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By Karen Harrison Binette

Dutchess in a recent photo
Dutchess in a recent photo


Dutchess was severely burned in an accidental house fire on September 19, 2012. A year later, her life and that of her rescuer have been immeasurably transformed.

It’s been a year since sweet survivor kitty Dutchess was rescued from her burning home by firefighter Toni Day and began a healing journey to recover from the severe burn injuries she sustained in the fire.

Dutchess is mostly recovered from her injuries and has a new life with her rescuer, who stood by her from the time of the rescue.  Toni Day saved Dutchess’ life, set up a fund to accept donations toward her medical care, created the Facebook page that has shared her story with the world, kept in close contact with Dutchess’ doctors, visited her regularly during her months in hospital, and finally adopted her and gave her a loving home where she enjoys family life while completing her recovery.

Dutchess was rescued with 2nd and 3rd degree burns from the Saybrook, IL fire of September 19 that took all of her family’s possessions, their home, and the life of the family dog. Firefighter Toni Day made the rescue when she picked up the six month old burned kitten who was found hiding under a sofa and handed her out through a window, though she couldn’t be sure the little pet would survive.

Dutchess was wrapped in a wet towel and taken to Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue. A few days later, then-petmom Jackie Jones (who had to relinquish her guardianship of Dutchess, but remains in her life) took her to the University of Illinois’ Small Animal Clinic in Urbana, where she remained for months while receiving care.  Dutchess had trouble breathing because of smoke and debris in her lungs and needed care for her eyes. She was burned on her face, chest, torso, legs and paws, and a flea collar had melted into her skin.  Due to the severity of her burns, the possibility of infection was a concern.

Dr. Brittany Heggem Perry, a veterinarian completing a small animal emergency and critical care residency, was closely involved Dutchess; care from the beginning and reflected on her case in a recent column at the University’s website.

“Throughout the process, Dutchess remained strong and sassy. She tolerated what we did to her and seemed to take everything in stride,” says Dr. Perry “The treatments were painful and we did our best to reduce the pain, but she really toughed out the roughest days and seemed to do well mentally.”

The Dutchess Burn Fund Facebook page, initially set up by Toni Day as a fundraiser, transformed into a page to celebrate Dutchess’ progress and show support for her and for other burned and injured cats in need.

Some people who left comments at Dutchess’ Facebook page, on news stories, and on our own stories about Dutchess, said it was cruel to keep her alive and the kindest thing would be to put her down. Dutchess’ rescuer and her doctors and other caregivers were compelled to help her, due to her sweet and strong spirit and her will to live. Their faith in the little burned cat was well placed, as she recovered well from the smoke inhalation and her injuries.

By December 2012, Dutchess was greatly healed and was looking furry again. The area around her eyes still showed the effects of her injuries, though.

Toni made this update at the time:

“Her paws sustained serious burns, but she is adapting to her new paws. She lost most of her claws, her paw pads and the webbing on her toes, which caused the toes to fuse together. We are told that she will develop calluses that will take the place of her pads in the event that her pads don’t grow back. She is fortunate that she did not require any amputation. She already walks on her paws on soft surfaces. She will not have pads on her paws and may need little socks, but she has shown that she is a tough cookie that may defy All Odds!!”

“The hospital at University of Illinois is a teaching facility and she is queen of the ER. Many students have had the opportunity to learn from Dutchess not only about her physically but they have learned humility as well.”

Dutchess’ loving guardians Toni and Christy Rose Day made the big announcement in January that the cat they’d seen through her recovery was soon to be released from the hospital and would join their family at her new home.  Dutchess went home near the end of January.

Toni has chronicled the months since Dutchess came home at Facebook, where a look back down the page is well worth the time to follow along on her progress as a beloved pet who is healing and reaching little milestones along the way.

Dutchess had surgery  in July to deal with the exposed area around her eyes.  The plan was for two separate surgeries, but only one has been carried out.

Toni told us today:  “The surgery for her eye did not work as well as we had hoped, but she can at least close her eye now. The skin on the forehead is so damaged from the fire that it is causing issues with healing. With this in mind, we will not be doing the other eye. We will consult with soft tissue re: her dew claws. If we can have those [humanely] removed [for her safety], then she can’t scratch her inverted lids. That would be the last surgery barring any issues in the future.”

You can “like” and follow the The Dutchess Burn Fund Facebook page for continued updates on Dutchess and other cats facing similar challenges, and for upbeat rescue stories.

The page is currently helping to raise awareness and funds for Hope, a cat you may recall from our September 12 story, Help for Hope: A Burned Kitten’s Recovery.

Toni made this touching video in recognition of the 1st anniversary of the day both her and Dutchess’ lives changed forever:


Our earlier stories:

January 21, 2013: Dutchess’s Big News
Dutchess before the fire
Dutchess before the fire



Shortly after the fire, with and Toni Day
Shortly after the fire, with Jackie Jones and Toni Day


Bandaged in the early days following the fire
Bandaged in the early days following the fire


Dutchess, healing in an October 2012 photo that touched thousands of hearts
Dutchess, healing in an October 2012 photo that touched thousands of hearts


December 2012, much healed and furry again.
December 2012, much healed and furry again.


Nearly ready to leave the hospital!
Nearly ready to leave the hospital!



Showing some love, August 2013
Showing some love, August 2013




a sore spot is finally healing, and is smaller now than in this August photo.
A sore spot is finally healing, and is smaller now than in this August photo.

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2 thoughts on “Dutchess: Sweet Survivor Burned Kitty One Year Later”

  1. Wow,what a truly inspiring story that bought tears to my eyes.Dutchess is a extremely lucky girl.Its just beautiful to see that there are some people out there that will fight for cats.Will be looking forward to your ongoing progress beautiful Dutchess.x

  2. This is a beyond amazing story. Blessings go out to all the firefighters out there who put their lives on the lie every day but especially to the ones that go that extra mile to rescue family pets. As for Dutchess she should be promoted to queen because she is BEYOND amaizing

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