PROVINCETOWN — Not long after Smoochie Chute set out on his morning walk April 13 around his East End neighborhood with his brother, Love Bug, he returned, screaming in pain. Smoochie, a mostly indoor cat belonging to Mike and Kalliope Chute, had been shot.
A few weeks into the cat’s convalescence, I brought my trusty reel-to-reel to talk with Smoochie and the Chutes about what happened.
“Who did it, Smoochie?” I asked. The cat was mum. But his furtive eyes suggested he knows something he’s not saying.
His humans don’t know who pulled the trigger. Nor do the cops. The police did take a report, said Mike. But as of May 12, they were not ready to comment on the case because it is still “under investigation.”
It must have happened between 8 and 8:45 a.m., Mike said, soon after Kalliope let Smoochie out, as she does every morning. Neither they nor their neighbors heard a gun’s report.
Smoochie and Love Bug had regular routines, making a small loop to visit cat friends and having their pictures taken by a neighbor’s security cameras before returning home for feeding and the afternoon indoors, Mike said. For now, at least, the animals’ unsupervised wandering privileges have been suspended.
The bullet hit Smoochie on his left side just above the hip, passed through his stomach, intestines, and diaphragm, and lodged between his heart and windpipe, where it remains, said Mike. As a result, the type of gun used in the assault is not known, he said.
“He was lucky he made it back to the house alive,” said Mike.
The Chutes rushed the cat to the Veterinary Wellness Center of Provincetown, where Dr. Sadie Hutchings at first suspected coyote or car trauma, based on Smoochie’s symptoms and the initial appearance of the wound.
“Once he was stable enough — pain medication, mild sedation, and oxygen — we took radiographs and saw the bullet and the pneumothorax,” Hutchings said. A pneumothorax is an abnormal pocket of air between the lung and chest wall that can cause the lung to collapse. It is usually caused by injury.
At first, Hutchings said, she couldn’t believe that someone would shoot a cat in the East End of Provincetown, where her children often play at a playground. “It took me a few minutes for my brain to accept that,” she said.
Smoochie was sent, on oxygen, to Cape Cod Vet Specialists Buzzards Bay for further diagnostics and surgery. The bullet is still lodged above his heart, however. Hutchings doesn’t want to worry Smoochie with this, but he may need more surgeries later as scar tissue grows around the bullet.
Walking with only a slight limp, Smoochie wandered in and out of the room as Mike recalled the events of the day of the shooting. Though the wound is still visible on the cat’s left side, his personality has mostly bounced back.
The Chutes’ bank balance has not yet recovered, however. Mike said the veterinary bills now total about $26,000. A GoFundMe campaign has raised $9,376 so far to help pay for Smoochie’s care. The outpouring of support has included kind words and donations from people the Chutes have never even met.
As I packed up, I couldn’t help overhearing soft chatter in the yard. The Chutes also keep chickens. I know what you’re asking: could they prove to be valuable witnesses?
I talked with them through the chicken wire at their well-protected enclosure. It’s designed to prevent the sky from falling and stop predators from getting at them, too. Canines were on their minds, however, when asked about who they suspected was behind the assault.
“Dogs,” said Hawkeye.
“Foxes,” said Georgie.
“French bulldogs,” clucked Pauline. A few others murmured their agreement.
Olive, a slender chicken, stood slightly apart from the rest of the pack.
“What about you, Olive?” I asked. “Who do you think did it?” Olive pecked at the ground, too shy, it seemed, to answer. But as I turned to go, she darted toward me.
“You ever hear of the Salt Marsh Mafia?” asked Olive. I shook my head.
“Who else beside a human has opposable thumbs?” she asked.
“Raccoons?” I tried to picture a raccoon pulling the trigger on a gun. “What’s the motive?”
“Mister, I’ll lay a golden egg before I can figure out what motivates a raccoon,” she said. “Some creatures are just born bad.”
Mike Chute said that he believes the shooting must have been intentional, although he can’t imagine why anyone would hurt Smoochie, a young rescue who is sociable and loved by neighbors.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being mad at Mike and Kalliope, either. They farm oysters in the West End, and with his brother, Richard, a fisherman, Mike will be carrying the statue of St. Peter during the procession from St. Peter the Apostle Church to MacMillan Pier in the Provincetown Portuguese Festival and Blessing of the Fleet in June.
Massachusetts animal cruelty laws call for up to seven years of incarceration and fines up to $5,000. Animal cruelty cases are relatively rare on Cape Cod, with only a handful of incidents reported in recent years. All of which is to say it’s not often the Communicator is called to step in on animal cruelty cases. Let’s hope it stays that way.