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Norwich Bulletin - 4/1/2007


Do you have smoke alarms in your home? Are you secure in feeling that if there is a fire, you will be able to escape and your animals will survive? I have been reading about so many fires lately in which pets have been lost, but it really came home to me when it happened to a friend and I was part of the rescue group for her animals.

Sitting at my desk at work, my co-worker, friend and fellow Helping Paws volunteer, Heidi, received a phone call that her house was on fire. She flew out the door, and I was close behind her. She called me from the road and told me how scared she was even though she knew her children were at school, her seven cats were in the house and she was so afraid to drive up to her house. We have often talked about fire being our greatest fear with respect to our indoor pets. I told her to be brave and that we would find the cats and I prayed that I was right.

I called my husband and asked him to grab carriers and have a heart traps and meet me at the house. When I got to the scene it looked like complete chaos. The house was a duplex and the side her brother lived on was just gone. There were different Fire Departments, the State Police, the Ambulances, and my heart went into my throat. I got my car as close as I could and then walked to the house. There were two firemen to my right, working on a cat I recognized was not one of Heidi's and watched as they stopped and looked up at me with sadness in their faces.

I went on to the house. Heidi and her daughter were standing in back of the yellow tape watching the firemen going in and out of her house waiting to see if any of her cats would be brought out. They had seen several running around but could not get at any of them. One of the firemen brought a cat out from her brother's side of the house and they rushed to get an oxygen mask on her. She would prove to be the only survivor from that half of the house.

The Firemen caught two of Heidi's cats and my husband whisked them and the kitty in oxygen off to Colchester Veterinary Hospital, while I talked my way into the house with another Helping Paws volunteer. It took quite awhile but we ended up with five of her seven cats, finding a sixth who was too scared to be caught and admitting that the seventh cat was missing in action. We had to leave the house because of the smoke residue but we made sure the have a heart traps were set around the house first.

Volunteers took the rest of the cats to the vet in order to be checked out and receive baths as they smelled of smoke (as we all did). And then I was asked what to do with the animals who did not make it. Four cats and a dog had died in the fire next door. A neighbor brought towels and blankets so they could be wrapped up and brought to the vet. It was so emotional and sad because they were gone and there was nothing any of us could do except cry.

Many monetary items were lost that day and this, of course, is devastating in itself. However, things can always be replaced. How much more of a heartache to have lost your pets.

One of the things that struck me was the way all of the firefighters cared about the animals. They saved the life of Molly, working on her as if she were a little person and smiling when she became strong enough to send off to the vet. They had tears in their eyes when they brought out the dog and obvious heavy hearts when their attempts to resuscitate the other cats failed. It was then that I realized what special people firefighters are and I appreciate how they did absolutely everything humanly possible to save the animals. They are heroes in every sense of the word.

The next day we found the missing cat alive and well. All of Heidi's cats are accounted for and living in a Helping Paws foster home until they can go home. We grieve for those animals that did not make it and we hope that their owners' hearts will heal with time.

Please install smoke detectors and alarms throughout your house. Do not keep candles lit and never smoke in bed. Fire is a very real threat to both humans and animals. It changes lives forever.

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