On a spring morning this year, Eoanna Hoefer's 8-year-old cat Tinkerbelle slipped out of the house for a few minutes while Hoefer carried a load of laundry to a back room; when the orange feline returned, she was dragging her hind legs, a bloody wound visible on her spine.
At first, Hoefer thought an insect had bitten her pet. But when the normally cheerful Tinkerbelle wouldn't eat or go to the bathroom, Hoefer took the animal to the veterinarian. An X-ray showed the cat had a pellet lodged in her spine, probably from a BB gun, a police report shows. The doctor also told Hoefer that Tinkerbelle would likely be paralyzed and never be able to urinate or defecate normally, the report states.
On Sept. 19, Daytona Beach police arrested Hoefer's neighbor, 46-year-old Christopher Shreve. Police charged him with animal cruelty -- a felony -- after he was accused of shooting the cat with a BB gun, the report shows.
A corrections officer with Tomoka Correctional Institution, Shreve has been placed on administrative leave with pay by the state's Department of Corrections, spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.
He did not return calls for comment, instead opting to speak through his attorney, Michael Politis. Earlier this week, Politis said Shreve is "pretty adamant that he never hurt that cat."
"My client does not have a BB gun that I know of," Politis said.
But the incident report taken in March and written by Daytona Beach Officer Liz Devlin says differently.
Devlin met with Shreve at his residence on Dach Avenue.
According to the report, Shreve told Devlin he may have made a comment about shooting stray cats at one time, but he never followed through with the threat. Shreve told Devlin that he had lived in the same house for 30 years and had no idea Hoefer had any cats. But then he told Devlin that Hoefer "lets her cats out all the time and they're always roaming the streets."
In addition, Daytona Beach code enforcement officer Tom Clig told Devlin that on April 14 Shreve admitted to him that he shot Tinkerbelle "to scare it off." Devlin also wrote that according to Clig, Shreve conceded he was sick of all the stray cats around his house and that he had "taken up shooting them with his BB gun," the report states.
Politis said his client's statements to Clig and Devlin were misunderstood. He said Shreve, who is to be arraigned today, will enter a plea of not guilty.
For Hoefer, who rescued Tinkerbelle when she was just a kitten, the entire ordeal has been an emotional battle since the beloved pet was injured in early March and forced to spend two weeks at the animal hospital.
The good news is Tinkerbelle is walking again -- albeit slowly -- and she is able to relieve herself, although with pain, Hoefer said.
The friendly feline's slow recovery came through several months of patient therapy by Hoefer, who suffers with a seizure disorder after she was struck by a car in 1988 and walks with an arm brace because of degenerative arthritis.
"Love for Tinkerbelle is what gave me the energy to be able to do the therapy," Hoefer answered quickly at her home this week. "I refused to let this cat live its remaining years dragging herself around on her rear end."
Hoefer, who once worked in orthopedics, massaged and exercised Tinkerbelle's hind legs with her hands daily; she ran a wire brush down her pet's legs to stimulate the nerves. As Tinkerbelle progressed, Hoefer placed a stool near the sofa and taught the feline how to step up and get on the couch again.
Regardless, some of the cat's simplest functions are gone.
"She can no longer scratch herself with her hind legs, so I try to do it for her," Hoefer said smiling at Tinkerbelle and Bandit, another rescue cat. "Sometimes she makes it to the litter box and sometimes she doesn't. Sometimes she cries when she goes to the bathroom because she's in pain."
Hoefer said the worst thing about the incident is that Shreve never came to her house to apologize for hurting Tinkerbelle.
"He came over here and yelled at me," she said.