Greater Androscoggin Humane Society Executive Director Katie Lisnik holds Harlow in November 2022 at the Lewiston shelter where the cat was recovering after being abused by a teenager on Knox Street. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

On the evening of Nov. 4, 2022, a 17-year-old named Lilly found an injured male cat stumbling between a pair of cars parked in downtown Lewiston.

Something terrible had happened to the cat, that was certain at once. The animal was dazed. One of its eyes was red with blood and the flesh around the eye was torn.

Lilly, a high honors student who works at a veterinary clinic, did what we would hope any such rescuer would do: She brought the injured cat to the closest source of help available.

For the cat that Lilly would name Harlow, the long road to recovery was just beginning. But for Lilly and her family, all that awaited was frustration.

It’s been a few months now, but some of you will remember Harlow. While the animal was wandering on the street on that fateful day, some fiend snatched it up, swung it around by the tail a few times and then slammed it to the ground with heartless fury.

We know all this because a video of the atrocity went viral on social media, enraging the community and ultimately leading to the arrest of a young man who was charged with abusing the cat. We know that Harlow eventually recovered through the efforts of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and that he was ultimately adopted and placed in a new home.


What most DON’T know is that, for weeks, Lilly and her family fought day and night to adopt Harlow only to be put off, diverted and later told that the cat had been placed elsewhere.

“We are a very upset family,” said Christina Conant, Lilly’s mother. “We’re brokenhearted. That they would treat the person who saved the cat’s life this way is mortifying.”

And the person who saved Harlow’s life, it is generally agreed, was Lilly, who rushed the wounded cat to the Animal Emergency Clinic of Maine on Strawberry Avenue in Lewiston and who did everything she was asked to do.

She agreed to pay the bills that would arise from the cat’s treatment. She signed whatever documents needed to be signed and continued to fret over the cat, hoping upon hope that the animal would survive.

When Harlow first came to the clinic, officials there were under the impression the cat was a stray that had been struck by a car. Harlow was initially treated with pain medication and the cat was sent home with Lilly, who for 24 hours, hovered over the ailing animal, taking care of it any way she could.

“She really bonded with that cat,” Christina said.


But it became clear that Harlow needed more help and so Lilly brought it back to the shelter the following day. There, Christina said, shelter workers provided documents for Lilly to sign. They took the medical payments from her and that was that. Harlow went for more treatment and Lilly reminded the shelter staff that she would like to adopt the cat once it was medically cleared.

And that was Lilly’s last contact with the cat she had found in such rough shape on the streets of Lewiston. All attempts to reunite with Harlow from that point were unsuccessful.

Not that Lilly’s mom didn’t try.

“She told me what had happened,” Christina said, “and I went down, talked to a supervisor and offered to pay the medical bills to adopt him. I made several calls and was told that as soon as he could come up for adoption he would call.”

It was Christina’s firm opinion that the person who had rescued the cat should have first dibs on adopting the animal. But days went by and they never heard another word about Harlow except for what they read in the newspaper.

“Three weeks they played around with me about it,” Christina said.


Shelter officials said that when a person brings an animal for care as a stray, it is customary for them to sign documents releasing that animal over to the shelter. At that point, the shelter assumes the costs associated with the animal’s care.

Christina said that when her daughter brought the cat to the shelter seeking more care, she was frantic over Harlow’s condition and had no idea what she was signing.

And then, early into Harlow’s second stop at the shelter, things went up a notch.

According to shelter officials, after Lilly brought Harlow to the shelter, a worker recognized the cat from the video on social media. At that point, it became clear that the animal was the victim of abuse, triggering a call to the animal control officer. The police, too, began looking into the matter of the horrific cruelty being discussed with such passion on social media. The media got wind of it and stories were published.

Harlow the cat became a celebrity. Lilly, on the other hand, was more or less forgotten.

Christina said she made several calls and visits to the shelter during that time. What do I have to do, she wanted to know, to adopt this cat for my daughter? She never got a firm answer, Christina said. She described shelter officials as indifferent and at times, rude.


Then came the call from the shelter operations manager who informed Christina that Harlow was being adopted by the family who had been fostering him during his recovery. There was no argument Christina could make to change that outcome, and to this day, three months after the drama began, it still steams her.

“It’s awful what they did to Lilly,” Christina said. “They treated her like trash. She has a huge heart and still keeps Harlow’s picture up in her room. I’m not sure how they thought what they did was right.”

Christina said she’s heard over and over that certain shelter workers grew fond of Harlow, just as her daughter did. She believes that because of this, shelter officials conspired to keep Harlow in their own family rather than turn the animal over to the girl who had saved him.

But Katie Lisnik, executive director of the shelter, said that’s not true.

“All of us at GAHS are incredibly grateful for the young woman who stepped up to help Harlow when he was in need,” she says. “While we do not have all the details, bringing him for medical attention and to us for care was the right and good thing to do and for that she is commended.”

When it came time to decide who would adopt him permanently, Lisnik said, a decision was made that uprooting Harlow yet again would be harmful to him. As is customary at the shelter, during the cat’s recovery, he had been placed with one of the preapproved foster families the shelter uses to take care of animals as they’re being prepared for adoption.


“With so many amazing people wanting to adopt the kitty,” Lisnik said, “we decided to put his best interest front and center and keep him in the loving home where he has already resided for a month — and in which he has already created wonderful bonds with a new feline brother and his human family members. For those who want to help cats like Harlow, we currently have over 60 cats and kittens awaiting homes. They may not have such an impactful story, but they are just as deserving of a loving family.”

As it happens, Lilly and her family did just that.

“We rescued another cat that needed a home,” Christina said, “but never got over the heartbreak for Harlow. I honestly hope this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone else who rescues an animal.”

Soon, Lilly will be going to college at one of the finest universities in the country, presumably taking her photo of Harlow with her. Her mother, in the meantime, has thought about hiring a lawyer to help create a law that would protect the rights of people who rescue injured animals.

It’s a sordid little tale, no doubt, but when you get right down to it, there is some relief to be found in the fact that motivations are pure on each side. Harlow the cat became the focus of this intense custody battle, as it turns out, because too many people loved him with all their hearts — and all of that love springing from an act of monstrous hate and cruelty by a wretch who ought to be doing hard time for the deed.

We may not agree on who should be the rightful owner of Harlow, but at least we can all agree on that.

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