.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fires at Private Shelters Claim the Lives of More Than Two Dozen Cats in Connecticut

"I thought I was in hell. Black smoke was pouring out of here, and I knew those cats were gone."
-- Vincent Gugliuzza

More than two dozen cats being warehoused in the private residences of animal rescue workers perished recently in two separate fires in Connecticut. This terrible loss of lives has focused attention on both the advisability of caging felines and the safety of ad hoc shelters.

Based upon various press reports, between twenty-three and twenty-six cats were killed on March 18th when a fire engulfed the residence on Paulette Hepworth and Vincent Gugliuzza of Strays Unlimited at 31 Dock Road in Montville, south of Norwich. At least five felines remain unaccounted for, but twelve cats and four dogs made it out alive and are now recuperating at the Old Mystic Animal Clinic.

"It was an awful thing to happen," Montville Animal Control Officer Jane Greenwood told the Hartford Courant on March 19th. (See "Montville Fire Kills at Least 23 Cats.") "We found cats upstairs and downstairs. They took in cats nobody else wanted," she added.

"I thought I was in hell," Gugliuzza told WFSB-TV of Hartford on March 19th. (See "Dozens of Cats Killed in Shelter Fire.") "Black smoke was pouring out of here, and I knew those cats were gone."

The fire, which was caused by an overloaded extension cord behind a couch in the basement, damaged up to seventy-five per cent of the residence and forced Hepworth and Gugliuzza to decamp to a nearby motel. (See photo above of charred containers of cat food.)

Two days later in Bozrah, a western suburb of Norwich, four more cats and a dog perished when a house belonging to Heidi Jaskiewicz of Helping Paws of Colchester went up in flames. Although several cats are believed to be still hiding in the house, the Bozrah Fire Department was able to rescue seven felines.

One of the lucky ones was a fifteen-year-old brown and white American Shorthair named Molly that firefighter Lisa Greenleaf revived by using a pediatric oxygen mask. (See photo above of her and Molly standing in front of Eddie Aubin and Sandy Nordgren.) She is now recovering at Colchester Veterinary Hospital.

Greenleaf, who used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in order to save the life of another cat, told the Norwich Bulletin on March 22nd, "I made do with what I had." (See "Heroics Save Bozrah Cat.") "I just treated it like it was a baby. You have to treat them with as much value as any family member." (See photo below of her and Molly.)

No reason has been given as to the cause of the blaze and Jaskiewicz has been forced to seek temporary accommodations elsewhere.

Although there is certainly nothing in the news reports to indicate that any of the individuals involved in the fires are anything other than dedicated cat lovers, sheltering a large number of animals under one roof is a serious undertaking. Consequently, measures must be put in place to ensure that they are provided with an environment that is both hygienic and safe.

Being caught flatfooted in an emergency not only costs lives but provides the authorities with a ready-made excuse either to close down or to regulate such shelters. It is therefore incumbent upon animal rescue groups to police themselves.

All public and private funding needs to be taken away from animal control and shelters and instead devoted to finding permanent homes for domestic cats and dogs. Sanctuaries, barns, and managed colonies should be established for feral cats that rescue groups do not have the time to socialize. A cage is no place for any animal.

Despite the disturbing loss of life in both blazes, it is nonetheless encouraging to see that some fire and EMS personnel are beginning to take animal emergency services seriously. In fact, the Bozrah Fire Department is exploring the option of purchasing equipment specifically tailored toward reviving animals.

Unfortunately, some fire departments and rescue squads around the country actually have taken a step backwards when it comes to protecting the lives of animals. For instance, the Fire Department in New Albany, Indiana recently refused to rescue a cat trapped on a rooftop. (See Cat Defender post of February 20, 2007 entitled "Stray Cat Ignominiously Named Stinky Is Rescued from Rooftop by Good Samaritans After Fire Department Refuses to Help.")

Contrary to what some people believe, cats, dogs, and other animals are not second-class citizens; rather, they are valuable members of this society and as such they are fully entitled to very best emergency care available.

Photos: WFSB-TV (charred cat food) and John Shishmanian of the Norwich Bulletin (Molly and Greenleaf).