At first, Jose William thought the East Boston house across the street was on fire. He saw flames in a first - floor window of the brown three- decker yesterday and scrambled for his cellphone to call 911. Then what looked like a ball on fire fell from the window and landed on the sidewalk.
When he and a friend rushed to the scene, they made a horrific discovery; it was a cat. Someone had wrapped the animal in a rag, lighted it on fire, and thrown it against the window, shattering the glass, fire officials said yesterday.
"Poor little cat," William, 32, said yesterday as he recalled the Princeton Street incident , which police said occurred about 8 a.m.
Police made no arrests yesterday, but a witness saw a young man believed to be 18 to 23 years old, wearing blue jeans, a gray, hooded sweat shirt, and a green cap throw something at the window and run toward Putnam Street, said Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department.
Fire officials said the cat belonged to the sister of homeowner Lawrence Sullivan. Arson investigators, who are working with city police and law enforcement officials with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are searching for a motive.
"It's just a shocking case of cruelty to a defenseless animal," said Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department. "Frankly, it's disgusting."
Killing a domestic animal is punishable by up to five years in prison under state law.
Yesterday's incident was particularly disturbing because of the suffering the animal probably went through before it died, said Brian Adams, spokesman for the MSPCA, which investigated just under 3,000 complaints last year.
"Everyone knows what it's like to be burned at some time in your life," he said. "To have that disconnect from what you're doing to an animal, that's extremely alarming to us."
MacDonald said Sullivan's sister used to live in the house, but had recently moved and left the cat in her brother's care. Sullivan lives on the third floor, MacDonald said, and tenants live on the first and second floors.
Julie Sanseverino, who lives across the street, said she cannot believe anyone in the house would hurt an animal.
"I'd stake my life on that, that they had nothing to do with this," she said.
Sullivan rescued a pit bull from an abusive owner last year and owns another pit bull and another cat, said Sanseverino, who has known Sullivan for at least 16 years.
"This must be breaking his heart," Sanseverino said. "He must be dying. He loves animals."
Neighbors said they feared that the cat was a friendly black male named Nunu, whom Sullivan cares for.
Sanseverino said Nunu often paws at her back window, signaling her to let out her tabby, Tigger.
"I feel so bad for him because he keeps looking at the back window, and I keep telling him, 'If it was Nunu, he's not coming,' " Sanseverino said.
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