A local kitten that initially survived a vicious beating in June at a local park won over animal lovers nationwide — becoming a celebrity with more than 3,000 Facebook fans cheering for the animal's recovery.
Those fans are now in mourning this week after learning the kitten — named Dexter — was put down Monday following medical complications.
Cathy Fitzgerald, manager of PetLuv in Brooksville, said it's been an emotional rollercoaster for her and other staff members who watched over Dexter's recovery and were heartbroken to watch as the animal's health take a turn for the worst begining late last week.
She said PetLuv technician Tiffany Sroka, who adopted Dexter, noticed the animal's seizures were becoming more frequent and severe.
The symptoms are believed to have stemmed from the head trauma the kitten sustained from the June incident when a woman and her two children beat both Dexter and another kitten with an aluminum baseball bat along with kicking both animals repeatedly.
Sroka brought Dexter to the clinic during the weekend. Despite various medications used, they were unable to stabilize Dexter and it was decided that the best course of action was to euthanize the kitten.
Fitzgerald said Dexter's downward condition was a surprise to many of the PetLuv staff members after the kitten showed promise with recovery — frequently playing with other animals including Fitzgerald's rescued Shih Tzu, for which Dexter was named after.
The dog is one of the 64 abandoned Shih Tzus found last year with skin lesions, hair matted with feces and some with overgrown nails growing back into their paws. Many of those dogs also were diagnosed with the parvovirus
Fitzgerald said she and other PetLuv staff thought it appropriate to name the rescued kitten after the dog, since both faced health complications and made remarkable recoveries.
"This is all very new and it's still hard to talk about," Fitzgerald said. "At the same time, Dexter touched more than 3,000 people's hearts and brought attention to the topic of animal cruelty."
In June, 24-year-old Wilana Joenel Frazier was charged on charges of animal cruelty and contributing to the delinquency of a minor after deputies say witnesses saw her repeatedly strike two kittens with an aluminum bat at a Brooksville park while making comments about shooting people and killing.
Frazier, along with two small children, also kicked the kittens repeatedly. One boy threw one of the kittens against a tree and attempted to cut the other kitten's neck with a stick.
Once a black kitten appeared to have died, the body was thrown in a trash receptacle while one of the children poured water over it.
Area children at the park were able to grab the remaining kitten and it was later taken in by Hernando County Animal Services before being given to PetLuv.
In light of the media coverage, pet lovers from across the nation became Facebook fans of PetLuv — many of whom sought frequent updates and pictures of Dexter, Fitzgerald said.
"He was one of the most playful little guys you would ever want to meet," Fitzgerald said. "He certainly lived life to the fullest."
By Tuesday, another Facebook page was created titled "R.I.P Baby Dexter(2011)," to allow fans to share their thoughts and memories of the kitten. Another page was also created to give condolences and light a "virtual candle."
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said Dexter's remains were slated to be cremated and given to Sroka, who she said had the day off and was grieving.
In a post to Dexter's fans on the PetLuv Facebook page, Sroka, thanked all of them for their prayers and support while hoping that little Dexter's life in some way touched them.
"Dexter helped to show me strength and love despite what life may throw at you. If one person is changed by this or helped by this then it was all worth it," she wrote. "I would like to leave everyone with a sense of the love that we shared as a family and one that I would never forget."