Erika Raggio of Juliaetta, Idaho, is always late. But she believes it was meant to be that she arrived early recently at the 49er's Saddle Club stables in Lewiston, where she volunteers as chairman of the royalty program and where her 6-year-old daughter Emma rides her pony.

With time to kill, Raggio had started cleaning up after a barrel racing event when she tripped over a "tiny" kitten, who ran startled into some weeds. She thought she'd seen duct tape over his mouth, which vets later identified as rubber cement.

After spending about 25 minutes coaxing the kitten, Raggio was able to pick him up and examine the "perfect square" of adhesive sealing his mouth and partially obstructing his nostrils.

"He was so tired and so lethargic, he just shut his eyes long enough for me to pick him up," Raggio said.

The kitten was lifeless, limp, struggling to breathe and so skinny Raggio could feel "every bone in his body."

Having connected with Helping Hands Rescue in Lewiston, Raggio drove the kitten to Orchards Pet Hospital, where Helping Hands agreed to pay the cat's medical bill of several hundred dollars, said Polly Benson, president of the organization.

Vets at the pet hospital told Raggio the kitten wouldn't have survived much more than a day without treatment.

With his mouth sealed shut and nostrils partially covered, he could barely breathe, Benson said. Veterinarians sedated him, cleaned off the rubber cement, treated him for fleas and ear mites and vaccinated him, Benson said.

Raggio immediately decided to adopt the 8-week-old kitten and named him Biscuit when he started pawing and "making biscuits" on her daughter Emma in the car, a behavior that's believed to be tied to nursing.

"I expected him to be really wild and skittish, but he would not stop purring and making 'biscuits' on my daughter," Raggio said, explaining it was like he was kneading biscuit dough. "That was what made me emotional because I could not believe he was being that sweet after what happened to him."

Raggio said the silver lining is that Biscuit's story led to an influx of donations at Helping Hands Rescue. In the four days since Helping Hands posted to Facebook about Biscuit, the nonprofit received more than $1,500 in donations through its website, and more checks are coming in the mail, Benson said.

Biscuit is fitting in with Raggio's three dogs and three other cats. One cat, Turnip, has "adopted" him, cleaning him and letting him eat her food, she said. Though he's still small enough to fit in a coffee mug, he's gaining weight.

Emma, starting first grade this year, adores Biscuit, Raggio said. Vets had to remove some fur from his paws where the rubber cement spread as he tried to paw it off, Raggio said, but Emma says she loves his scruffy hand, which she calls "hannies."

Maggie Quinlan can be reached at (509) 459-5135 or at maggieq@spokesman.com

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