If you had asked us before October 16 of 2001 if we thought for one second that our cats were in danger in the peaceful town of Del Mar, California, we would have said no. If you asked us if two days later we would be mourning the loss of one of our most cherished family members, we would surely have said no. All of our cats are healthy and well-loved, and we had no idea that a single unimaginable act would alter the course of our lives forever.

Bert and ErnieIf you had asked us if later that week we would be tracking down a killer, we would have thought you were crazy. But that's exactly what happened. Someone stole a friend's cat, drove her 15 miles away to the next town, and set her on fire. Two days in one of the best veterinary emergency rooms on the west coast later, little Bert died, with 3rd degree burns over 75% of her body, internal bleeding, and kidney failure.

And yet that's exactly what happened.

When this tragedy happened, we immediately began papering the neighborhood and contacting whoever we could to find out how to get the word out so that people would know that there was a serious threat. We handed out flyers, emailed and called newspaper, radio, and TV stations, and set up a website telling Bert's story.

Bert's medical treatment wound up totaling close to $5,000, and poor Bert hadn't even survived. Because Bert's guardian is a close friend of mine and I knew that the financial burden would be enormous, I began looking at other ways to raise some of those funds. Countless hours of web surfing and phonecalls later, I had a few options, but I turned to the general public, and the many people I knew on the Internet.

Although the media was given the url of Bert's site, they never really distributed it on the air, as we would have hoped. And yet through word-of-mouth, we managed to raise enough money to cover Jane's entire vet bill.

The outpouring of support from friends, family, and strangers was overwhelming. Bert's story touched so many people that we decided that we should put our heads together and come up with a resource for other people who have found themselves in this exceptionally tragic situation. I think a large part of it is that we felt like so many people had given so much to us... We wanted a way to try and give something back. We will never feel like there are enough ways to say "Thank You" to truly express what everyone's financial and emotional contributions have meant to us, so the very least we can do is try to help others.

The suspect is still walking the streets. He is believed to have fled back to Brazil where he is undoubtedly torturing and killing people's cats there. (And what happens when he's gotten bored with cats and decides to move on to bigger and better things like women and children?) We're doing all that we can, pursuing our own independent investigation, and trying to make the public aware so that they can protect themselves, but the end result right now is that Bert was tortured to death and no arrests have been made.

Although we are still working diligently to see that justice is served, we still feel as though we haven't done enough. This site was spawned from those feelings of sheer helplessness and frustration, and the need to give something back to the people who were there for us when we needed it most.

Alison Gianotto
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