Columbia City local Tabatha Barry doesn’t have biological children of her own. Though she is stepmother to her 12-year-old stepdaughter, like many pet owners across the country, she firmly considers her striped feline Chester to be her baby. 

But now Barry is facing an impossible decision. On the morning of Nov. 19, Chester was shot in the spine with a pellet gun in the 1900 block of 6th Street in a city where things like that just don’t happen. Barry drove Chester do the vet after finding him dragging his body up the steps to the front door certain that he’d been hit by a car.

“When the vet told me he had a bullet in his spine … I never in a million years …” Barry said, struggling to find the words. “You live in this county. That’s so uncommon here. All of my neighbors are old and retired. We live here for a reason.”

Chester became Barry’s ‘baby’ almost ten years ago when he chose them. He’d been a capture and release feral cat who began showing up in the family’s backyard. They started feeding him, and after two years of attention, Chester finally decided he wanted to come inside one winter. Barry’s husband found out he’d been living under a torn vent in their old house, and slowly, she said, he became one of the sweetest cats she’d ever had in her life.

The Chronicle reached out to Barry on the morning of the 21st after a rough morning of receiving updates from the vet. It was day three after the shooting, and though Chester wasn’t doing bad, he wasn’t doing particularly well, either.

“She thinks he might be able to live a full life with three legs – he won’t regain the use of that back right leg where he was shot – but he hasn’t been able to stand on three legs, he’s a bit chunky, so they’re trying to get his weight down,” Barry said. 

It’s the “might” that is the problem. The bullet is pressing against Chester’s spine in such a way that it can’t be removed. There is currently no way to tell if he’ll be in lifelong pain, and for the moment, it is too risky to take him off of his current pain medication to be sure. Barry said she and her family are at a point where they have to make a decision – do they risk bringing him home where he could potentially suffer, or do they let him go with the knowledge that he’s had a good life?

Fortunately, the community has come together to help Barry raise funds for ongoing vet bills. After she was overwhelmed with emails asking to help, her sister set up a Gofundme page that has now reached its goal of $700 incurred for Chester’s hospitalization and treatments. Barry said she was blown away by the community’s support, and grateful, since she thought their family would have to sacrifice their Christmas for their daughter to care for Chester.

Though she hasn’t paid anything yet until she decides to bring him home, if that decision is made, there will likely be future costs incurred. To support Chester, that fundraiser can be found at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/chesters-recovery-amp-vet-bills?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

 A possible witness

Meanwhile, the Columbia City Police are investigating the shooting. Sgt. Jerry Baertolomucci said they’d canvassed the neighborhood and Barry had spoken with all of her neighbors, and it turns out there may have been a witness to the crime. 

An unknown female was seen dumping the cat from a cardboard box on the front walkway of Barry’s residence. Barry said she has an exact timetable for when Chester was shot. She’d looked out the window to see him sunbathing, took a ten-minute break, and when she went back to check on him, she found Chester dragging himself up the steps. Though she didn’t personally see the woman, Barry and Baertolomucci are hoping she comes forward. 

“I think she saw something. I want to know where she found him. He won’t wear a collar and never has, so someone knew to bring him home,” Barry said. “My husband thinks it might be a good Samaritan, and we want to thank them for not letting him die away from our home.” 

Baertolomucci said, at this point, they don’t know who that female is or where she went after she left Chester in the yard. 

“We really don’t have anything else to follow up on, but if anybody has any information, we would appreciate them calling,” he said.

Anyone with any potential information about the crime is asked to call the Columbia City Police at 503-397-4010.

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