FOUNTAIN - As everyone was gearing up for the holidays this past year, a Christmas miracle was happening - a cat named Charlie was using up one of his nine lives as a group of concerned citizens struggled to give him a second chance at life.

By Barbara High
bhigh@newstribune.info
Tribune Staff Writer
@BarbaraHighMDNT
FOUNTAIN - As everyone was gearing up for the holidays this past year, a Christmas miracle was happening - a cat named Charlie was using up one of his nine lives as a group of concerned citizens struggled to give him a second chance at life.
Hazel Gay Whitlock and her neighbor live in a quiet area near Taylor Lake in Fountain. Last summer, Hazel and the neighbors noticed an orange cat had joined the neighborhood, and many grew fond of him; one even naming him Charlie. Hazel and her neighbor began feeding and caring for Charlie and he just became family to them.
The last thing Hazel expected to see Thursday, Dec. 22, when she returned home was Charlie running scared with it’s leg ensnared in a steel jaw trap, dragging the chain and a five-foot wooden stake attached to it.
“I was coming home and he just ran in front of my headlights,” said Whitlock. “I had my headlights on him and I got out of the car to try and help him and he was scared and darted into a culvert.”
Hazel ran to her home to retrieve flashlights and solicit the help of her husband. She put a live trap at one end of the 70 yard culvert with food in it and blocked off the other end.
“We tried to look through the culvert with the lights, but you couldn’t see; it had a bend in it,” she said.
The culvert was too small for anyone to fit through, as well. Hazel and her husband also searched around for Charlie in case he had gone through the culvert, but did not see him anywhere.
Hazel was afraid for Charlie. “I thought he would freeze to death in the culvert,” she said. “ I couldn’t sleep and I kept checking every 30 minutes and would look for his eyes.”
With nothing to do and being alone with her fears, Hazel took to Facebook. And there she found some amazing people. As people began to reply to her post, many addressing their concerns, some unlikely heroes were about to be found.
At that exact time Amanda Kasmier-Daley, a young mother, was looking at Facebook. She saw Charlie’s plight and it tugged at her heart. “I love animals, no matter the kind.” said Kasmier-Daley. “If I can possibly help them, then I will.”
Amanda started talking to Hazel, along with Dawn Billmyer of Dawn’s Cat Sanctuary and Missy Smith, a local animal rescuer. Everyone was worried about Charlie’s fate. Amanda’s husband came home at a little after midnight and she announced she wanted to go help find the cat. “He talked me into waiting till daylight because of the temperatures and needing light,” she said.
Amanda did wait till morning, but not daylight. It was still dark when she arrived at Hazel’s on Bamboo Lane to help locate Charlie. Amanda said they checked the culvert and began searching the steep ravine because it was apparent that Charlie had exited the culvert. Somewhere between 7:30 and 8 a.m. she heard Hazel yelling that she had found him.
Charlie was located further down in the ravine, laying in what appeared to be a hole he had dug out around him. As Hazel tried to get near Charlie, she said you could tell he just wasn’t going to have it. So Amanda decided to try and use towels to put on top of him to hold him. She carefully placed a towel over Charlie, holding him to prevent his escape, as Hazel made quick work trying to free his leg from the trap.
The moment  that Hazel freed Charlie’s leg, however, the cat just disappeared. Amanda said it was like he just vanished between the towel and her hands. “He was just gone.”
As they lifted the towel, however, they were able to see that the “hole” they thought he had dug around himself actually was a groundhog hole he had been lying in. With his leg freed, Charlie was able to retreat inside the hole.
The ladies looked in the hole with flashlights and could not see Charlie. They searched around and had found what they believed to be only two entrances, so they put traps at both ends with food. As they checked both ends, they could hear a slight growling, which they took to mean that Charlie was not happy.
After a waiting game, the ladies decided to give Charlie some time. Amanda went home to attend to her young child and Hazel once again waited scared. “I kept updating Amanda, I would go out and hear the low growl and be like, ‘Charlie is still alive.’”
Hazel also went back to Facebook as she grew more concerned, asking for advice on what to do. More people weighed in with all kinds of ideas and suggestions. At this time, another unlikely hero would emerge.
Shawn Snyder was at home with his daughter Allison, and as she saw the rescue attempt of Charlie on Facebook she took it to her dad, saying “we have to help.”
Snyder said he knew he just had to do something. “I knew I just had to help this cat. I grabbed some tools and loaded them in the car and took off,” he said.
Amanda had returned to Hazel’s as well to continue the rescue efforts, as it had been decided at that time that Charlie was going to have to be dug out.  It was now around 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, and they knew that the clock was ticking and Charlie’s time was running out. Hazel said they were standing there and a car just comes flying down the road and out jumps this guy with a shovel, and he was wearing pink gloves. “He just wanted to know where to start digging; he wasn’t going to let that cat die in that hole,” said Whitlock.
Snyder was on scene and ready to dig, and dig he did. He first began to dig where the ladies said they herd the growling. After a short time they came upon fur. As he was saying he had found him, however, Amanda started yelling, “Stop it, it’s not the cat!” After a few more times of repeating herself, a discussion began as to why this couldn’t be the cat.
“The cat was orange and this was  grayish white; it was not the cat,” said Kasmier -Daley.
As the group talked, the opossum they had unearthed reared it’s head and was not happy to say the least about being dug up from it’s home.
“Shawn promptly began to put dirt back on it,” said Kasmier -Daley.
With the opossum incident behind them the group began to begin again.
“I honestly thought that they had mistaken the opossum for the cat,” said Snyder. “I thought that the cat might not even be in the groundhog hole at all and they were wrong.” Thinking it could be somewhere else, Snyder said he had almost given up hope. In the end, he said he was glad he wasn’t.
The digging continued, and continued, and continued some more. In fact the digging went on for 3 1/2 hours. Shawn had eventually dug a foot deep and a foot wide in at least 13 feet going in different directions.  Whitlock said he just wouldn’t stop. “Not for a break, not for a drink; he just dug.”
Whitlock said it was apparent that Snyder was sick, but he just kept going. “It was amazing what he did.”
At the very end of the second part of the groundhog hole, Snyder saw their first glimpse of good news - a bright orange tail. “You could see its tail; he had pushed himself into the end of the den so tight and there was no life left in him,” said Snyder.
Kasmier -Daley said you couldn’t tell if he was  breathing or not. “Shawn gently began pulling on him, and you could see it was worn out.” Finally a little before 5 p.m., Charlie was out!
The moment that Charlie was freed and placed in a cage, Snyder grabbed him and ran. “He was yelling as he ran to the car to call the vet and tell them were coming,” said Whitlock. “He was a true hero that day.”
Dawn Billmyre had previously stepped up saying that she would be responsible for Charlie’s vet care and would take him if they could get him out of the hole. So with a plan in place, they were going to try to save Charlie.
The story of Bamboo Charlie quickly became a Christmas miracle, the day strangers came together to save the life of a little orange cat.
Bamboo Charlie was treated for his injuries at Mountainview Veterinary Services. Due to necrosis at the site and infection, Charlie’s leg was unable to be saved and had to be amputated. Today he is doing well, relaxing and starting to get around. He is eating and well on the path to recovery, according to Mountainview.
He is also adoptable and going to be looking for his forever home.
Bamboo Charlie was lucky. Many came together to save him and his story will end well. Sadly others have not been so lucky.
According to Whitlock, five cats from  her neighborhood have all come up missing at around the same time, including her beloved Tristan. “I think my Tristan met the same fate as Charlie,” she said. “I think they ended up in the trap.”
The trap itself is a whole other question - whose trap was it? “Everyone in our little area are animal lovers,” says Whitlock. “We don’t know who it belongs to.”
Although trapping is not illegal if all guidelines are followed and it’s not on another person’s property without permission, all traps used for taking game or furbearing animals are required by law to be marked with a durable plate or tag attached to the snare, trap, or trap chain bearing the owner’s name and address, according to West Virginia DNR trapping regulations.
The trap that caught Charlie was not marked, which made the steel jaw trap an illegal trap.
The people in the area say would like answers. With the trap coming loose and being dragged by Charlie, there is no way to tell where it was originally placed.
Many people came together to help Bamboo Charlie, but it will still take many more to continue to give hime the help he will need. Veterinary bills have added up for his care. Anyone wishing to help Dawn and Charlie and can donate to Charlie’s expenses by contacting Mountainview Veterinary Services at 304-788-6607 or by stopping by their offices in Keyser at 90 Southern Dr.