A flash flood was raging this May when Lori Dover heard a kitten crying.
The 39-year-old resident of Lake Charles, Louisiana, had been feeding abandoned and feral cats in a gully behind a Walmart — something she’d done every day for two years — when the mews reached her ears.
She jumped in her car and drove through flooded streets, following the sound for two blocks. The closer she got, the louder the meowing became.
“It was pitch-black and raining. I just crawled into this muddy sludge pit following his cries,” she told TODAY.
After pushing through a broken fence, she found a tiny, drenched kitten stuck in a thorny bush.
“The mama cat was right there, swatting my hand,” she said. “She was looking after her baby, but I couldn’t move him. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, has he been impaled?’”
Dover reached out to a neighbor, who arrived with pruning shears and bolt cutters that she used to free the kitty. She drove the kitten — “he literally fit right in my hand” — straight to an emergency veterinary hospital.
Remarkably, except for a 2-inch scratch, he was healthy.
Dover brought the kitty home and named him Lord Sugarplum Puddington.
“This kitten looks like a cross between an ivory snow angel and a sugarplum at Christmas, so what else could I name him?” she quipped. “He is just my brave, sweet boy. He’s my parlor puma.”
Now Dover is even more determined to help other cats in need. There are many abandoned and feral cats in the city because Lake Charles has been pummeled by disastrous weather events. Dover said Hurricane Laura in August 2020 was even worse than Hurricane Rita in 2005 — then was quickly followed by Hurricane Delta. This year brought an ice storm, flash flood and tornadoes.
“The city of Lake Charles looks like a puzzle that fell out of a bag,” she said. “This is extreme hardship on the human scale, and this is an animal welfare crisis in Calcasieu Parish in Lake Charles.”
Dover, who has worked in art acquisition and the pet products industry, is pouring her life savings into helping abandoned animals, from feeding cats to humanely trapping them to get them veterinary care and try to transport them to shelters in other locales.
She currently has 17 rescue cats in her home, which she calls a “furry von Trapp family,” but she’s at maximum capacity.
So Dover applied for an ASPCA grant that allowed her to host a free spay/neuter clinic at the local civic center, which helped 121 cats in two days. Because it was so successful, she plans to host three clinics each year — and wants to help other small towns and rural communities host similar events.
She also created the St. Huckleberry Animal Fund with the hope of raising money for abandoned animals and forming partnerships with organizations that can help transport them to other communities for adoption.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “These are pets that have just been dumped.”
But as an optimist, she finds reasons to persevere and hopes others will, too. Last month, she was able to finally capture Lord Sugarplum Puddington’s mother and adopt her. Plum remembered his mom — named Lilibet — and the two seem delighted to be reunited.
Dover hopes Americans will help the people and pets of Lake Charles, and work to develop disaster preparedness responses since climate change will lead to more natural disasters.
“Reach out and help others,” she said. “And please don't lose hope.”