Around midnight on May 20, a Pit Bull named Baby jumped on her mom as she slept in a frantic effort to wake her up. When Johanna White stirred, she smelled smoke.
“She came in, jumped on me in bed, whacked me in the face with her paw, and licked my face until I got up,” White told abclocal.go.com. “And then when I sat up I smelled smoke.”
White, Baby and three snakes were able to escape alive (her husband and daughter were not home at the time), but some of the animals living below the Whites’ apartment at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society weren’t as fortunate.
Fifteen cats who were in cages and waiting to be adopted perished in the blaze and, although several other cats and the dogs survived, they are all now homeless once again and in need of foster homes. The animals are currently being housed at a local veterinary clinic or with shelter staffers until other accommodations can be found.
Volunteers acted quickly and worked side-by-side with firefighters to rescue the remaining animals inside, about 10 cats and 15 dogs.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” Katherine O’Donnell, communications director for the society, told insidebayarea.com. “The door between the cat and dog rooms was closed, so that kept some of the smoke from overwhelming the dogs.”
At press time, firefighters believed that the fire started in a clothes dryer but that theory had not yet been confirmed. The society, though, recently passed its annual fire inspection.
In addition to the loss of the cats, the fire destroyed the laundry room, cat quarters, a cat adoption area, restrooms, an office, a two-bedroom apartment and a boardroom, reports insidebayarea.com. Additionally, the building is now without power, phone or water service, making it uninhabitable.
The non-profit organization is in need of funds, volunteers to help clean up the debris and assist with repairs, and foster homes for the surviving animals.
After the fire was reported, the shelter immediately began receiving donations from a supportive community. Even two local children raised money by selling lemonade and cupcakes, reports the HuffingtonPost.com. As generous as neighbors have been so far, it’s looking like the society will need still more.
The society, for instance, “must now pay a staff that has nothing to do, find a temporary office, clean out the burned building and do an inventory of what equipment and supplies it can salvage. Then it will start to rebuild,” reports the MercuryNews.com.
But for as badly as the shelter needs funds, those at the society are not the only victims. The White family who lived in the apartment upstairs lost almost everything and is also in need of assistance, which includes clothing and a place to live. Although Johanna’s husband John is getting ready to start attending UC Berkeley soon, the family is not eligible for student housing because they have pets.
It is not known if or how the society will share any of its donations with the Whites, but a spokesperson said that “the society will honor whatever lease provisions were made with them … In addition, a city of Berkeley relocation ordinance requires landlords to pay tenants relocation costs and up to three months of living expenses in certain situations where the residence becomes uninhabitable,” the MercuryNews.com reports.
“It’s absolutely tragic,” O’Donnell told the SFGate.com. “Our primary concern is to really raise as many monetary donations as we possibly can so we can rebuild as quickly as possible.”
O’Donnell is also concerned about long-term affects the fire damage will have on the community. “We save about 800 animals a year and this fire will put a damper on what we do,” she says.
Monetary donations can be made at BerkeleyHumane.org. Click on the “Donate” tab or mail a donation to BEBHS, 2700 Ninth St., Berkeley, CA 94710. Potential foster parents are asked to email email@example.com and those interested in volunteering can inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.