Phoenix, a feisty feline who fought back from the brink of death, has earned national stardom for her determined spirit.
The Coleraine kitty is dining on fresh Irish salmon after becoming the first moggie from Northern Ireland to be honoured at the UK’s ‘Cat Oscars’.
She was selected from around 3,000 entries for the prestigious ‘Outstanding Rescue Cat’ award at the Cats’ Protection’s National Cat Awards which were held in London’s Savoy Hotel on Thursday.
The plucky puss got her name when she emerged from a coal bunker in Garvagh, Co Londonderry, bearing horrific burns.
Thought to be around two-months-old, the kitten was taken to Coleraine veterinary practice where staff thought they were going to have to put her down.
“At first we called her Sizzles because she smelled like burnt pork,” said Yvonne Wreath, the vet’s practice manager — and now Phoenix’s loving owner.
“She was in a terrible condition. Her paws were so badly burnt they were like red jelly and they were covered in maggots.
“She could not open her eyes — they were seared together with the heat.
“Her hair was all singed and the tips of her ears eventually fell off.”
Staff considered putting the kitten to sleep several times but she fought for survival.
Now seven-months-old, her road to recovery has inspired cat lovers in Coleraine — where small businesses and local people donated around £500 to fund a complicated after-care round of injections and medication.
This encouraged Yvonne to nominate the miracle moggie for the gong.
“It took a long time for her to come round,” Yvonne said.
“But every time we thought maybe we cannot do any more, she did something, like opening her eyes.
“She really was a wee fighter.”
Life now could not be more different for the tough tabby, who has become a celebrity in the Co Derry town.
A crystal plaque with her image — presented to her new owner at the prestigious awards ceremony — now graces the mantlepiece of her home, which she shares with another cat and dog.
“She loves the cameras, she plays to them,” Yvonne added.
“She caught on to that fairly quick. She’s definitely a wee bit starstruck.”
While the 54-year-old celebrated the gong with champagne, Phoenix dined on a salmon fresh from the Irish Sea.
But fame and acclaim has not changed her.
“She’s just the same Phoenix. She’s quite happy-go-lucky,” Yvonne said.
“She’s a very feisty wee cat, and very loving.
“I was not sure if she would fit in with my other cat and my dog, but she did. I called her Phoenix because she emerged from the flames. She’s a star — she always had that aura about her.”
Famous felines who landed on their feet in corridors of power
Humphrey served UK prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, before being mysteriously ‘retired’ in 1997 amid rumours that Cherie Blair was allergic to cats.
The long-haired black and white stray was named after Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil servant in TV sitcom, Yes, Minister.
In 2007, the job of official mouser passed to Sybil, a black and white cat owned by the then-UK Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and his wife, Margaret.
The Darlings brought Sybil — named after the character played by Prunella Scales in the British comedy series Fawlty Towers — from their home in Edinburgh to their Downing Street flat.
Socks (Socks Clinton-Currie) was better-known stateside as the official ‘first cat’ of the United States under then-US President Bill Clinton.
Socks — a stray cat adopted by the Clintons — was named by his daughter Chelsea.
Brown and white tabby, Larry (left), is the current 10 Downing Street cat — popularly known as the ‘chief mouser’ to the Cabinet Office.
Cats outside the world of politics include Orangey, the |feline featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and other movies, and Oscar — the cat which made medical history when it was given two prosthetic limbs in a pioneering operation by a UK veterinary surgeon, after its back feet were severed by a combine harvester in 2009.