Burt has settled into his new home in Cape Elizabeth. Chris Collins, who adopted him, sits on the step behind. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Lily Collins gives a little head scratch to Burt at his new home in Cape Elizabeth. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Burt has settled right in to his new home in Cape Elizabeth. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

CAPE ELIZABETH — Four months ago, Burt was sick, confined to a cage and so scared he only let humans get close enough to lightly stroke his head with a back scratcher — arm’s length distance at all times.

Today, in his new adoptive home, he likes to roll over in the middle of the living room floor, grab his favorite human’s hand between his front paws and demand she pet him. A lot.

“He has made such great strides,” said Lily Collins, as Burt tugged on her hand, a reminder he would like his ears scratched more, please.

Burt, the big, once-bedraggled cat who had spent years as a stray and an entire winter evading capture in Wilton, now has a family.

“He’s one of my best adoptions, I would say,” said Sharon Bushey, adult adoption coordinator for HART, the Cumberland cat shelter that handled Burt’s rehabilitation.

Burt was a longtime stray when he was spotted last year outside Jeff Harmon’s Wilton home. Harmon, a cat lover, was heartbroken by Burt’s condition: ears severely damaged, teeth broken, eyes swollen and infected, nose dotted with cuts and scars.

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On Facebook, Harmon referred to him as The Big Hurt Cat. Then just Big Hurt. As last winter wore on, a growing number of friends and friends of friends followed along online as Harmon chronicled his attempts to catch the cat.

On March 24, he finally walked into Harmon’s trap.

“I got him!!! I got him!!!” Harmon wrote on Facebook at the time, accompanied by a video of the newly captured cat. “Big Hurt is officially no longer a stray. I am literally shaking right now. …”

With three cats already and limited income due to a disability, Harmon could not keep the cat, who clearly needed medical help. The Franklin Country Animal Shelter in Farmington took him in initially but it couldn’t keep him long term. Ultimately, HART offered him a place.

At HART, Big Hurt became Burt.

Burt’s social media star continued to rise. Within days of his arrival, thousands of people checked out a short video of him eating canned food from a spoon and a photo of him relaxed, rolled onto his back, paws flung into the air for a catnip-induced doze. The shelter posted regular updates of his progress.

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Shelter volunteers worked to get Burt used to humans, using a back scratcher to slowly acclimate him to light touches. Within weeks, they could pet him with their hands. Soon, he was moved from a cage to a room shared with other cats.

“We discovered that he really did like kitties, the other cats,” said Bushey at HART. “He had a few girlfriends. He really snuggled with quite a few of them.”

Burt was so much happier around other cats that HART made a rule for any potential adoptive home: Either his new family had to  have other cats already or Burt had to be adopted with a cat from his room. He would not be alone anymore.

Over the summer, HART posted on Facebook that Burt’s time had finally come. He was healthy enough and social enough to be placed for adoption.

“My computer lit up,” Bushey said.

Several people quickly inquired about Burt. Three or four submitted full applications to adopt him.

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In Cape Elizabeth, Chris Collins was following HART’s Facebook posts about Burt. Her family had taken in and cared for its own badly injured stray cat years before, a beloved boy they named Charlie. He had died a few years ago, but Collins could not get over how similar Burt looked.

“The first time I saw (his picture), I thought of Charlie,” she said.

As HART posted updates, the family only grew more captivated.

“We just couldn’t stop thinking about him,” said her daughter, Lily, 24. “HART’s posts were wonderfully descriptive and we just loved his story.”

But even as HART posted that Burt was finally available for adoption, Chris paused to consider their situation. The family already had three cats. Was it right to add a fourth?

That weekend, her fiance, a fellow pet lover, offered his take.

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“Out of the blue, he just turned to me and said, ‘You know, I think we need to bring Burt home,'” Chris said.

A couple of days later, Chris found herself out of work early. She asked her daughter if she wanted to go with her to meet Burt.

“We never expected to bring him home,” Chris said. “We didn’t bring a cat carrier or anything.”

Burt had other ideas.

“He loved them,” Bushey said. “From the minute they walked it, they could do anything with him.”

Burt had ignored other potential adopters, but he adored Chris and Lily. When Chris stopped petting him during their visit, he nipped at her hand to get her to start again.

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“He just really wants attention and companionship,” Chris said.

Burt has been home for about six weeks. He spent his first days hiding in Lily’s bedroom, then hiding in the den. He has slowly gotten more comfortable with the rest of the house, his anxiety soothed by ear scratches and head rubs — especially if Lily is the one doing the petting.

A couple of weeks ago, he purred for the first time.

“It was amazing. It’s so quiet and so deep,” Lily said. “He was just all cuddled up and sleepy anyway, and I started petting him and he just started purring.”

The home’s other residents will require a little more time. While Burt is intrigued by the family’s other three cats — Ollie, Opie and Butter — they are less interested in him. However, Opie lets Burt follow him around the house, and Chris recently found all four cats sleeping on the same bed. If any of the other cats hiss at him, Burt has not hissed back.

“I just think it’s really hard to be mean at somebody who won’t be mean back,” Chris said. “He just wants to be friends. I do think it’ll happen.”

Burt will not have to give up social media stardom just because he has found a home. Lily had posted photos of her family’s three cats on Instagram under the name maine.puffs. Since Burt joined the family, she has gained 200 followers, many of them people who have been following his story from the beginning.

“I’m definitely excited to keep people posted,” she said.

Animal Tales is a recurring Sun Journal feature about animals and their people. Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].


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