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The story continues ... A kitten in a snowdrift and an 18-year-old Shih Tzu sister are among the twists to updates on four Pet Tales

The dogs, cats, goats, bunnies and horses whose stories have been told in Pet Tales have already had interesting lives. And sometimes readers get involved and the stories get even better.

Here are updates on the stories of four previous pets, each with a twist.

Nine months after her story was told in Pet Tales, Violet, the cat that was found close to death at 28 pounds, continues to thrive in the Cheektowaga home of Rick and Sue Paulson.

And a brief mention of another cat in the Paulson home answered a nagging question for a Clarence family.

First, Violet's story. The pretty pastel tortoiseshell was turned in to the SPCA Serving Erie County by a person who said the cat was found in Como Lake Park in Lancaster. At 28 pounds, nearly double her expected weight, Violet could neither walk nor clean herself.

After treatment for her skin ailments and losing a few pounds, Violet was put into the lobby for adoption. Visitors laughed at her still-plump appearance, which deeply offended Sue Paulson, a volunteer in the AdvoCATs program who works with cats suffering from ailments or stress. Paulson took Violet home to shed some more weight.

Today, Paulson says, "Violet has gone from 28 pounds to 12 pounds! She is one happy girl -- plays all the time and has lost more than half her body weight."

Paulson says, "The key to her success is exercise. If she could choose to run across the room or walk across the room, she runs. She moves freely, she chases her tail and she loves to play."

The story said Violet lives with the Paulsons' other cats, including Bubbles, a gray kitty who had lost the tips of her ears to frostbite. That drew the attention of Laura Del Monte of Clarence.

A few winters ago, Del Monte's husband, Tony, found a small gray kitten near death in a snowbank near their home. The Del Montes took the kitten in and turned her over to the SPCA Serving Erie County the next day.

The SPCA staffers named the kitten Bubbles because she was blowing bubbles from her nose due to a respiratory infection. Del Monte checked on the kitten and learned that, although the tips of the kitten's ears were frostbitten and she was sick, she was treatable and adoptable.

"I've always wondered what happened to her," Del Monte wrote. "Then I read your article I would love to discover if this is the same Bubbles. I would be so happy to find she is being well cared for and in a loving home."

Put in touch, the two families compared notes and determined that it was the same cat.

"I was so excited when she called me back," says Del Monte, who also enjoyed receiving photos of Bubbles. "She's in a great home!"

"I always had a lot of compassion for Bubbles," Paulson said, "but this gave me even more compassion for her, to know where she came from, to be found so close to death in a pile of snow."

* * *

If you thought a nearly 19-year-old Shih Tzu -- roughly the equivalent of a 133-year-old person -- was amazing, get ready to be astounded.

Michelle Marzolino's dog Spencer, the Shih Tzu who was born June 25, 1993, in Depew and whose story was told in The News on April 10, has a living littermate, a female named Shelby, who is owned by the Sweeney family of Glenwood, near Colden.

Lara Sweeney contacted The News after she and her parents saw the story about Spencer. Sweeney and Marzolino, put in touch through email, compared their paperwork and determined that their two elderly dogs were, in fact, littermates.

"What a crazy coincidence!" says Sweeney.

Last month, Spencer's veterinarian, Dr. Barbara Scheffler of Corfu/Darien Veterinary Clinic in Corfu, said, "He has definitely lived beyond the average life span," and attributed his longevity to "luck, genes, diet, good medical care, all of those play a role."

Marzolino now credits genes a little more. "It's amazing to find a dog that old and then find another dog from the identical litter," she says.

The women emailed each other photos of their dogs. "When I saw the picture, I thought, 'That dog kind of looks like Shelby,' " says Sweeney. "I thought the two looked similar in the face," says Marzolino.

The weekend after the women spoke, they got together in Sprague Brook Park with their elderly dogs.

"They probably played when they were puppies together, but now they aren't too interested in other dogs," says Marzolino. "They sniffed each other once, and before we left they kind of nuzzled each other a little bit." With their owners holding them, "they put their heads on each other, and it was pretty cute," says Sweeney.

Shelby "has all body parts," says Marzolino, unlike Spencer, who lost one eye after an infection and has reduced sight in the other eye. "Shelby's vision is not good, and neither of them hear well, and they are both very slow-moving," says Sweeney. "They seemed similar to each other; they are both in the same stage of life and are mostly interested in eating and resting."

* * *

A cat who was saved by the work of two caring veterinarians and the prayers of nearly 80 Franciscan nuns has transformed the quiet convent where she lives.

In January 2011, Sister Alice Gilabert and Sister Lois Nunweiler, who live in the convent at St. Aloysius parish in Springville, were saddened by the death of their black cat, Midnight. A month later, they adopted a petite tabby with white feet and enormous greenish-gold eyes from the Walden Galleria adoption site of the SPCA Serving Erie County.

Staffers there told the two nuns that the timid cat, then named Tillie, needed a quiet home. Sister Gilabert remembers, "We said, 'How much quieter can you get than a convent?' "

They took the cat home, and Sister Gilabert renamed her Gina, after her friend Gina Browning, public relations director of the SPCA.

Soon after arriving at her new home, Gina fell ill. At the Springville Animal Hospital, Dr. Gary Schmitz and Dr. Michael Reilly diagnosed a serious intestinal problem and performed delicate surgery to repair it. The surgery went well, but for days afterward Gina refused to eat, shrinking to just 3 pounds. Staffers tempted her with delicious food, even putting morsels in her mouth, but Gina wouldn't eat. Things looked dim until the power of prayer worked its magic.

Sister Gilabert, who works at the order's St. Mary of the Angels Regional House in Williamsville, said, "I asked our wonderful Franciscan sisters to pray for this creature of God -- and they did!"

When Gina finally ate a morsel, a week after her surgery, the staff rejoiced. Soon, she was able to go home to the quiet convent.

Or maybe not so quiet. "Gina has these little toy plastic springs that our neighbor brought us. She tosses them down the stairs, runs down the stairs after them, then bats them down the hall," says Sister Gilabert. "She is a bundle of energy."

Gina, whose story was told in Pet Tales a year ago, is also intensely interested in visitors, says Sister Gilabert. "Gina loves people. We had most of our choir over after the Easter Vigil and Gina came out to greet everyone."

Midnight, although sweet and loving, shunned visitors. She "would run down to the cellar and hide until the person left," says Sister Gilabert. "Gina is the exact opposite. She runs into the kitchen where people usually come and is right there checking people out, she has to meet them. She is an extrovert cat and loves being with everyone. She is a real joy!"

Gina now weighs about 10 pounds. "I tease her about her weight," says Sister Gilabert. "She's very healthy, and the vets at Springville are delighted with how she is doing."

* * *

Last month, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert "Bob" Cook of Cheektowaga quietly returned home from Afghanistan. He reunited with his wife, Kristin, as well as a new member of the family -- Rio, the dog he had saved as a puppy with the help of a British animal-rescue charity called Nowzad.

"She weighs about 35 pounds and is a little crazy girl," says Cook. "She is muscular and extremely active."

After a Pet Tales story about Cook's effort to send Rio home was published Oct. 11, News readers rushed to help. Within two days, readers contributed almost $3,000 of the $4,000 needed to fund Rio's trip to Buffalo.

Cook last saw Rio when she was a small pup in the late summer, when Nowzad workers arrived on the base where he worked to round up a family of half-tame dogs. Rio's father, Beethoven, and her littermates were caught, but her mother, Goldie, refused to leave the junk-filled area where she had hidden her pups.

After an extensive search, staffers found Rio and her brother Hesco caught in a tangle of equipment, weak and starving.

Rio and Hesco quickly put on weight in the Nowzad shelter, and in mid-November, Rio and about a dozen other dogs arrived in New York.

"She's doing really good; she really fits in with the family well and is very lovable and playful," says Cook, who resumed his job this week with the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition.

email: aneville@buffnews.com