OQUAWKA, Ill. — When a Henderson County deputy knocked on Tammy Ferguson's door Saturday morning to tell her about a dead cat, her heart sank.

Feguson, who runs the Schlotzhauer Home for the elderly, has three cats. The handful of residents there think of them as therapy cats, and Mamma Cat, a stray Ferguson rescued a decade ago, was the most popular.

"She was a very comforting cat for the ladies who live here," Ferguson said.

Unfortunately, Mamma Cat was brutally killed early Saturday morning, left to hang like a morbid yard ornament.

The grisly details of Mamma Cat's death have left Ferguson in shock, and very well could lead to an arrest. The cat was forcibly impaled on a pair of antlers belonging to a fake, decorative deer outside the Schlotzhauer Home.

Ferguson couldn't bear to see her beloved cat in such a condition, so her boyfriend, Dan McKune, removed Mamma Cat and buried her. Blood was running from the cat's mouth, and according to McKune, Mamma Cat was likely still alive after being left on the antlers.

"I'm still in shock. She was a member of the family," Ferguson said.

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McKune took a picture of Mamma Cat while she was impaled on the antlers, then posted it to Facebook in a plea to find who is responsible. Ferguson hasn't been able to look at the graphic photo, but she encouraged McKune upload it. She wants justice for her defenseless pet. She wants people to know the horrible truth.

"It's got to the point where, if they are brutally hurting a cat, what could they do to a human?" she said.

It's a practical concern that has made Foster feel much less secure in her tiny community. Because the residents of the independently-operated assisted living home are free to come and go as they like, Ferguson kept the back door unlocked.

Mamma Cat was inside the house when she was stolen, and footprints left in the snow indicate the culprit entered the house from the back door, then chased her up a tree outside as she tried to escape. McKune figures Mamma Cat fought back, but being such a gentle feline, she likely greeted the culprit at the door. Two children and half-a-dozen elderly residents slept inside while she was abducted.

Ferguson locks all the doors now and encourages everyone in the community to do the same. She contacted KWQC for further media exposure in hopes of uncovering some justice.

The penalty for animal cruelty and torture is far steeper in Illinois than in Iowa. "Cruel treatment" is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and one year of jail. The penalty for "aggravated cruelty" is a fine of up to $25,000, one to three years of jail and one year of probation. "Animal torture" has the stiffest penalty, including a fine up to $25,000, two to five years of jail and one year of probation.

A legacy of purring

Despite giving birth to countless litters (hence the name), Mamma Cat wasn't much of a talker. She rarely meowed, instead filling the room with loud purring while sitting on the residents' laps.

She watched over the residents as much as they watched over her, and would meow only during emergencies.

"There's been a few times where I've had a couple of residents fall in their rooms, and I couldn't hear it because I was in the kitchen. She would run out to the kitchen and come in meowing and meowing. She was very good about sensing when something was wrong," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the residents are also in shock. The ones suffering with Alzheimer's don't fully understand what happened, and they keep asking where Mamma Cat is.

Henderson County CrimeStoppers is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the culprit or culprits. To phone in a tip, call (309) 867-6202.