Four months ago, Pandora was an undernourished, abandoned kitten roaming the farm fields of rural Putnam County.
Today, she is a vibrant, loving animal with the distinction of being named the Reserve Champion Overall Kitten Wednesday at the 2008 Indiana State Fair.
Pandora showed up at the farm home of Bruce and Tracy Cunningham in April. She was first spotted by Bruce and his 14-year-old son, Kyle, a six-year member of the Fillmore Dazzlers 4-H club. Kyle has showed cats at the Putnam County 4-H Fair throughout his 4-H career, and had been looking for a kitten to show.
"We were real excited," said Bruce. "She's just adorable; she's real friendly. She was skittish at first."
The Cunninghams tried to find out where Pandora came from, but none of their close neighbors had cats, so it was a mystery.
Bruce and Kyle were feeding and milking their dairy goats one Sunday evening when Pandora first appeared. She was scared of them, and for a while they were unable to get close to her.
"We noticed she was very thin, very small and very young," Kyle said. "We laid out goat food and milk for her, and we searched around to see if there were other kittens, but she was the only one."
The Cunninghams knew Pandora was still around because she would eat and drink the food and milk they left for her. On a couple of occasions, Kyle also found Pandora sleeping in a baby goat feeder.
Kyle was patient with Pandora, and eventually she began to warm to him.
"We took her in, cleaned her up and took her to the vet," Kyle said.
At first he named Pandora Little Rascal, or LR, after his sister Catlynn's cat Rascal -- a bicolor cat who won Overall Grand Champion, Best of Show at the Indiana State Fair in 2003.
Shortly after giving her a name, however, Kyle discovered his new kitten was a female, and gave her the more feminine moniker Pandora, or Pandi, as he calls her.
"She's very playful," Kyle said. "Kind of chaotic. That's why we named her Pandora. She's really loving and affectionate, too … if you pick her up, she'll always purr."
At Pandi's first visit to the veterinarian's office, a veterinary assistant told Kyle his pet was "a real prize."
This proved to literally be the case when she was named Champion Long Hair Kitten at the Putnam County 4-H Fair last month.
"There was only one kitten in her class, but the judge really liked her," Kyle said.
Pandi's Putnam County win allowed her the opportunity to go on to the State Fair.
"The judge (at the State Fair) said of all the cats she'd seen, (Pandora) had obviously been worked with the most and handled the best," Bruce said. "A lot of her winning was her personality, too. I think it's because she was abandoned … any attention she gets, she eats it up."
Kyle plans to show Pandi again next year as an adult cat.
Through his involvement in the 4-H Cat project, Kyle has learned many valuable lessons.
He knows that pets should be spayed or neutered if they are not being used for breeding purposes, and that unwanted pets should be surrendered to rescues or foster homes rather than just dumped off.
Kyle, who will be a freshman at North Putnam High School, said even though most abandoned pets probably wouldn't go on to become State Fair champs like Pandi, they would make great pets for someone willing to love and care for them.