WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — Minus its ears, a tail and one leg, the black-and-white cat is swaddled in a baby sleeper on a blanket inside an incubator.
Four months ago, two teenagers set the stray cat nicknamed Westy afire in a parking lot. He has undergone three major surgeries for skin grafts and amputations and faces painful rehabilitation to regain mobility.
The teenagers served two days in jail, were ordered to pay a $500 fine and spend 18 months on probation.
As Westy prepares to move from a veterinary hospital to a new home today, his well-publicized plight has prompted a lawmaker to seek stiffer animal cruelty penalties, a plan supported by at least two newspaper editorials.
State Rep. Alice Borodkin (D-Denver) said authorities need to view animal cruelty as a precursor to far worse crimes.
"These people later go on to murder," she said. "These people really need to be put away. They need treatment, and they need to be taken off the streets."
As a child, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer decapitated a dog, and David Berkowitz, New York City's "Son of Sam" murderer, killed a number of his neighbor's pets, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
On May 26, an unidentified driver who saw the two teens set Westy afire called police.
Animal control officers took the cat to the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, where the veterinarian on duty nicknamed him Westy after the city of Westminster, where the animal was found.
The cat was in critical condition, with 25% of its body covered in third-degree burns. An additional 10% was first- and second-degree burns. Vets said the cat was near death, but they were inspired to save him because of his will to live.
"His appetite was good, he still groomed himself," veterinarian Don Ostwald said. "Signs like that showed us he wanted to hang in there."
Adams County Dist. Atty. Bob Grant, who prosecuted the teens, said they wanted to know what would happen if the cat's tail was set on fire "like the cartoons." The boys--ages 16 and 17--turned themselves in to police one month later.
As doctors worked to save Westy, about $65,000 in donations poured into a fund for his treatment. Hospital officials plan to use the money in other animal cruelty cases.
They also set up a Web site that features frequent updates on Westy's condition.
At least 27 states punish some cruelty to animals as felonies. Colorado law defines animal cruelty as a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Penalties vary from case to case across the nation.
Earlier this month, a California man who slaughtered four puppies in an agricultural shredder was sentenced to three years and eight months in state prison on four animal cruelty counts.
In San Jose, Andrew Burnett, 28, received a three-year prison term after he was convicted of throwing a bichon frise named Leo to his death following a fender-bender with Leo's owner, Sara McBurnett.
In Torrington, Wyo., a man is serving eight months in the county jail after he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for abusing and killing his ex-girlfriend's dog.
"If lawmakers tell me I can have additional prison beds for those who are cruel to animals or for those who sexually assault children, I'm going to take the latter," said Grant, the Colorado district attorney. "Those are the kinds of tough decisions we are forced to make and legislators are forced to make with limited tax dollars."