DIXFIELD — A dog saved a newborn kitten left for dead by its mother Wednesday when the dog carried the 4-inch kitten home in her mouth.
The rescue started a chain of efforts from Dixfield to Freeport to save the feline dubbed "Tiny."
"She's just our little superstar," Myriah Thebarge of 41 Kidder Ave. said Thursday of Sadie, her son Jason Baldinelli's husky-terrier mix.
"She's gotten all kinds of extra love and treatment," Thebarge said. "I just cannot believe what she did. It was so sweet, you know."
Sadie was a rescued stray herself, Thebarge said.
Two and a half years ago, the family got the nearly 3-month-old pooch from McKennel's Animal Adoption Agency at 88 Hall Hill Road in Rumford.
"She was just a scrawny, sick-looking puppy; the poor little thing," Thebarge said. "Since we got her, she's just been an awesome dog, so loving and such a good dog, so it's almost like she knew that we took care of her, so she thought we could take care of her rescued kitten, too.
"Where Sadie's never been a mom, I would never expect her to have those maternal instincts," Thebarge said.
It started at about 2 p.m. Wednesday when Baldinelli, 17, looked out the window and saw Sadie carrying something. He said he thought it was a piece of trash.
"So I go outside and she drops a little kitten on my feet," he said.
He said Sadie was carrying the kitten inside her mouth, with the kitten's head hanging out on one side.
"She was carrying it like a little package," Baldinelli said. "She wasn't biting down on it. She was just so, so gentle, and then she just so gently set it down."
Stunned, Baldinelli picked up the mostly white kitten. He said it was very cold. He didn't know what to do, so he called his mother at work.
"He was out of breath and he couldn't believe what she had just delivered to him," Thebarge said. "He said, 'Mom! You're never going to believe this!'"
She said the teenager was cuddling the kitten to warm it up. It "started to come around, but he had to go off to practice," she said.
Jason said he put the kitten in a shoebox on an old T-shirt and took it to a neighbor's house.
A call was made to Jason's science teacher, Athena Sanders of Dixfield, who was still at Dirigo High School. She told them to bring it to her.
Spanish teacher Heidi Broomhall of Rumford was standing with Sanders when Jason's identical twin brother, Julian, brought the kitten to them.
Sanders and Broomhall then began calling veterinarians, animal shelters and animal control officers, trying to get help.
"I was holding him and I said, 'Oh, my gosh, don't die!'" Sanders said. "I'm like, 'We're going through all this work. You better live.'"
At one point, the kitten stopped crying. Sanders said she panicked, mistaking its contentedness for death.
Thebarge arrived home from work, and took Sadie outside. The dog instantly bolted into the woods, leading her to where she found the kitten.
"She instantly went right over and she touched her nose to the ground and I could see where the mother cat had laid down," Thebarge said.
That's when she saw a little patch of fur and discovered the mother cat had tried to bury another kitten. It was dead. She properly buried it.
Thebarge said there wasn't any reason for Sadie to venture that far from home but she may have heard the kitten's distress cries.
Thebarge said she went door to door asking residents if they'd had any pregnant felines. None did.
Meanwhile, Broomhall and Sanders were growing increasingly frustrated. The shelters were full and no one wanted a starving, newborn kitten.
"It was just looking so doomed," Thebarge said.
Broomhall zipped home for dinner and posted a frustrated status on her Facebook account about their efforts to save Tiny.
Then she returned to the high school for an open house, only to learn that Dixfield Animal Control Officer Anne Simmons-Edmunds of Roxbury had taken the kitten to Dixfield's police station where she works as a police officer.
When Broomhall arrived home at 8:15 p.m., she received a call from her friend Terri Demmons, a veterinary technician who lives in Freeport and runs Pawsibilities, a dog grooming and obedience school.
Demmons, who has successfully fostered kittens, had seen Broomhall's Facebook status and wanted to help. Demmons drove to Dixfield to get Tiny.
"She had water bottles and milk replacer, and she asked, 'Is it OK if I sit right here and feed this kitten now?' and I'm like, 'By all means, please do, because I haven't been able to,'" Simmons-Edmunds said.
On Thursday, Demmons told Broomhall that Tiny was alive and doing well.
"We hear stories about maternal instincts and all I can guess is, on some level, (Sadie) heard something in distress and went to investigate, and how she gently picked up this kitten and brought it home, it's just a crazy, amazing thing," Simmons-Edmunds said. "So, see? You can get great dogs from animal adoption agencies."