WATSONVILLE – Horchata the cat has been an integral part of a mental health dorm for most of its young life. She climbed under the covers to snuggle up with the residents, invited each other for hugs, and was often reluctant to go home. His own hand-knitted blanket is waiting for him to visit the facility.

On the night of January 3, however, the nearly 2-year-old stray cat stumbled into counselor Mary Hall’s office, couldn’t stand alone, and immediately fell to the floor trying to make his typical leap to the top of the filing cabinet.

“He was just so funny, he had such a personality. I’ve never met a cat like him – he was loud as if he knew what to tell you and could speak, ”Hall said.

“He kind of came into the office that night (and) just this threatening mood to take over me,” Hall added, her voice choked with emotion. “I looked at him once and thought something was wrong. He’s not okay. “

Hall called Horchata’s owner, who lives in a neighborhood apartment complex on the 300 block of East Beach Street, to alert her to the emergency. Hall later found out that Horchata had three BB pellets in his body, with the most recent and possibly deadliest shot piercing his chest cavity and quickly filling his lungs with blood. Pellets in the elbow and forearm were older, according to the vet. Hall said she promised to do whatever she could to help with the vet bill and started an online fundraiser that quickly raised thousands for Horchata’s expensive surgeries and recovery efforts. The remaining proceeds were deposited in a trust for Horchata at the veterinary clinic responsible for its care, she said.

Horchata the cat recovered from surgery to remove BB pellets from his body in January. The authorities are looking for additional information. (Contributed)

Not alone

Horchata survived and is now a house cat, but two other cats living in the same apartment complex were discovered last month with BB pellet injuries. One had died from his wounds, according to Todd Stosuy, director of animal control at the Santa Cruz County Shelter.

Now, the animal rights group Menschen für die Ethical Treatment von Animals is offering a reward of US $ 5,000 for tips on how to solve the case.

“Whoever shot these cats must be stopped before more animals suffer the same dire fate,” PETA vice president Colleen O’Brien said in a press release referring to the reward. “PETA encourages anyone with information to report immediately, and we recommend keeping cats safe indoors at all times.”

Hall said when she started working for the condominium about a year ago there were about 10 cats who regularly made the grounds of the house their own private cat haven. Now there’s only one left – a 15-year-old cat who lives on the roof, she said.

“The facility I work at for some people there who spend their day seeing the cats and building relationships with them,” Hall said. “All residents named each of the wildcats that came. They were loved and it’s a tragedy because they weren’t just unknown cats…. It bothers me that there are people out here who think that they can just decide whether something is a pest or not. “

PETA officials, finding that cats across the country are “being shot, poisoned and stolen by angry neighbors,” urged their owners to “give them the opportunity to explore the outdoors only under the watchful human eye.”

Stosuy said that in his 18 years in the job, he’d typically seen reports of similar activities once or twice a year in which people taking the law into their own hands would approach feral or wild cats.

“Then it becomes a crime, either a misdemeanor or a crime,” said Stosuy, who is investigating the Watsonville cat shootings. “The way we see it, when someone deliberately shoots cats with a BB gun to cause willful injury, I believe that it increases the number of torture or agony that would be a crime.”

Fearing that someone who repeatedly tried to shoot cats could miss and hit a young child, Stosuy added, “At this point they are shooting cats, but who can say they won’t shoot anything else next?”

Reward offered

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals are offering a $ 5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person (s) who reportedly killed multiple cats with BB guns in an apartment complex at 327 E. Beach St. 331 have shot the Santa Cruz County Shelter at 831-454-7200 with tips.