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Louie the cat

A photo from the first time Louie the cat was shot near Gorham Park on Billings' West End.

If Louie had nine lives, he's at least down to seven.

The 3-year-old orange tabby, who owns Butch Landrie, has been shot.

Twice in three years. 

In an otherwise idyllic central Billings neighborhood, right across the street from Gorham Park, Louie has taken two .22-caliber pellets. He's the fourth cat to disappear recently, and authorities are looking into the disappearances.

For now, Louie is recuperating inside, missing his daily journey to the neighbor's house to cuddle with his pal, a black lab. And orange fur is beginning to cover the gaping entry hole where the pellet punctured his skin, and came to rest just millimeters short of the cat's kidney.

Louie is technically Louie III, Landrie said. Louie I and Louie II, both orange-colored cats, disappeared from Landrie's home in the same neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, Pamela Merrell, who lives just two blocks away from Louie, had her first cat, Leo, go missing. 

About a week ago, one of her children accidentally let their other cat, Shadow, slip through the door. Both had been indoor-outdoor cats. Both had always come back. And both have not been seen since.

Both Merrell and Landrie worry that missing animals and shot cats mean something more sinister is at play in the Gorham Park area.

"I can understand a bird lover or a duck lover or whatever being upset by a cat's nature," Landrie said. "But the shooting? You know with all the shootings in schools or at work, or in churches or at concerts, you have to wonder if this is a precursor to something."

Billings Police Officer Nick Lam has been assigned to the case. He said the greatest hope for catching someone being cruel to animals is remaining vigilant.

"If you hear a pop in the area, record the time and try to get the direction," Lam said. "That will help us try to figure out where it's coming from."

It's illegal to shoot any gun in city limits, Lam said, even a pellet or BB gun. Shooting at an animal, even on your own property, is illegal, too. Lam suggests calling animal control if there's a problem with nuisance neighbor pets. However, a search of complaints in the Gorham Park area revealed few concerns or evidence of strife.

The first time Louie was shot was May 2017. 

Landrie had gone through the typical nightly routine of whistling in a certain way to signal dinner for Louie. Like normal, Louie appeared, but instead of going straight for the food dish, he ran into the bedroom and hid behind the bed. 

Beneath some matted fur, a small puncture wound was visible from where a .22-caliber pellet had gone, toward his rear. Not long after, Landrie noticed Louie vomiting blood and foaming at the mouth.

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An emergency trip to Moore Lane Veterinarian Hospital revealed a small pellet close to his kidney. The surgery and recovery cost Landrie nearly $3,700. 

But Louie survived and thrived, eventually going back on his neighborhood rounds, entertaining a neighbor by learning how to climb a ladder and sip a little beer.

But earlier this month, when Landrie got up up to feed Louie for his typical morning breakfast, the cat remained in his nearby bed by the door. 

He didn't move. Landrie picked him up and that's when he noticed the blood.

The wound this time was nearly identical and the results the same. The only difference is that this pellet, the same caliber, had entered Louie on the other side and lodged not far from the other kidney.

This time the bill was $1,700. 

For now, the two pellets remain and appear as two bright dots on his X-ray. The pellets are just millimeters from his kidney and not far off the liver, too close to be removed.

"These cats are durable, and he's a fighter with an amazing will to survive," Landrie said of his buddy. "He's been through some pretty crappy things for just his three years of life."

For Merrell, she hopes that someone knows what happened to Leo and Shadow and that they come home. Or that she can go get them. Every day, she checks with animal control for cats matching their descriptions. Both Leo and Shadow are microchipped.

"We have great neighbors and they know our cats. They've let us check their sheds and garages," Merrell said. 

But there's no sign of either cat. 

"They're family. It's just this heartsick feeling," Merrell said. "If they got out and they're deceased, we just want closure."

On a Facebook posting by Landrie's daughter, several other folks posted notes about missing animals in the area. However, Lam has said there haven't been many reports of animals missing. Sometimes that's normal, though. Pet owners just assume the animals wander off. 

Billings Crime Stoppers may be reached by calling (406)245-6660 to report suspicious activities.  

"My biggest concern is the shooter is still out there," Landrie said. "I worry that the same person who did this, did it to Louie I and Louie II. I'm not naming another cat Louie. There won't be a Louie IV."

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