Sad news out of Orlando, where more than 20 cats died in a late night fire that destroyed the shelter where they lived on Wednesday.
Officials from the Orange County Fire Department said one section of the building was already engulfed by the time they arrived, with flames visible through the roof. They’re not sure yet how the fire started, but flame patterns indicate it started near the front of the Pet Alliance shelter, where the cats were housed.
Firefighters were able to rescue all the dogs and 10 cats, but at least 20 — and as many as 30 — cats were still inside, with first responders unable to get to them, per the Associated Press. Of the 10 cats who were rescued, some were moved to another Pet Alliance shelter, while a few were under veterinary care for smoke inhalation and burns.
“If you run a shelter, this is literally your worst nightmare,” Stephen Bardy, the executive director of Pet Alliance, told WFLA, an NBC affiliate in Orlando. “To see your building in fire and know that there are animals in there that you’re charged to care for and you can’t go in. …I’m grateful that the firefighters put their lives at risk to help save as many as they could.”
We don’t want to leave you with bad news only today, so here’s a hopeful story out of Portland, where a cat cafe was able to adopt out every one of its cats in less than a day since its post-COVID re-opening on Sept. 4.
Purrington’s Cat Lounge has coffee, wine and beer on the menu for guests who drop by to hang out with the cafe’s feline residents and see adoptable cats. Although it’s a popular place in the community, it’s had a tumultuous few years: First it looked headed for closure after its owners planned to move out of town, but was rescued by a kitty-loving local couple.
The new owners renovated the space and had big plans for it, but those were halted along with everyone else’s ambitions with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020.
Finally, the renovated cat cafe reopened about two weeks ago, and Portland locals — perhaps daunted by the Delta variant and the prospect of more work-from-home, socially limited months — were eager to give the resident kitties new homes. Since Sept. 4, Purrington’s has placed more than 80 cats in forever homes.
UPDATE: Charlene High was reunited with her cat, Donna, after staff at the Humane Society were able to work out a solution between her and the New York family that was going to adopt the 5-year-old Cornish Rex.
Little Donna went missing in February when contractors were installing a wheelchair ramp in High’s home and she got spooked as so many cats do, running out of the house.
She was found on March 14 and brought to the Humane Society of Highlands County, where staff held her for the mandatory five days before listing her for adoption.
In the meantime, High — who had been calling around to local shelters, posting Donna’s photo online and looking for her in the neighborhood — saw a social media post about a cat who had been found. The staff at the Humane Society named her Karena, but she was High’s Donna, and High said she was “ecstatic” her kitty was alive.
High and Donna couldn’t be immediately reunited, however. A family from New York had filed adoption papers for Donna and were planning on driving down to Tampa to pick up the cat.
Staff at the Humane Society worked to find a solution for everyone involved.
“We had to do some backchanneling and talking to the adopters and trying to find a solution with the adopters while also talking to Ms. Charlene,” said Sara Olivero, a staffer at the Humane Society of Highlands County. “We’ve had to do a lot of shuffling, a lot of phone calls, a lot of phone tagging.”
Ultimately, Donna’s would-be adopters agreed that she should be returned home, and will adopt a kitten instead, Olivero said. Donna was spayed, given a day to recover at the shelter, and was reunited with High on Tuesday.
“Ms. Charlene felt bad. The situation was bad to begin with,” Olivero said. Thankfully the solution was satisfactory to all and “every party is happy” with the outcome.
A Fox13 Tampa Bay (WTVT) story about the situation was aired and published to the web on Monday after the resolution, but presented the story as if the dispute was ongoing in addition to including several errors of fact.
We contributed to the flow of misinformation by linking to the WTVT story 11 hours after it was published, a practice called aggregation, and added our own commentary based on the misinformation. We got burned, and the result was presenting an inaccurate and outdated account of events to our readers.
We regret the error and promise to do better in the future. We’re glad the Humane Society found a satisfactory solution in a difficult situation, and we’re glad that Donna the cat has been returned to her original home.
Make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks and beverages, because today’s the big game.
Kansas City Chiefs vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the immortal vampire Tom Brady? Nah, we’re talking about the Kitten Bowl.
Like its predecessors, this year’s Kitten Bowl uses a flimsy football pretense to air the blood pressure-reducing, relaxing spectacle of a bunch of cute kittens running around a miniature arena and chasing after balls.
The program, which is a collaboration with the North Shore Animal League, pet food brands and other organizations, also serves as a TV-show-length PSA reminding people to adopt instead of buying kittens. Come late spring/early summer, every shelter will be overflowing with kittens just like the little ones in the Kitten Bowl.
The Kitten Bowl airs at 2 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel, and you can also stream it on Hallmark’s official site.
Merlin was born during 2007’s storm season in the Carolinas, and it was a hurricane that took him from his mom and siblings.
“He was found all alone in rubble and ruin,” his human mom, Meg Ferra, recalled. “Rescue picked him up but mom and litter mates were nowhere to be found, and Merlin was inconsolable. He was not yet weaned.”
Merlin’s kittenhood and first few years were chaotic, cruel and marked by repeated disappointment: The little guy, then called Shadow, was cycled through seven shelters and two families who adopted him, only to bring him back to the shelter system like a defective toy.
He was traumatized by his early experiences, shy and fearful, the kind of cat who huddled miserably in the back of the cage while more outgoing kitties found their forever homes.
His last stop — and last chance — was a kill shelter in New Jersey. The shy grey tabby with tufts of epic white-and-grey fur may have sensed his time was running out and uncharacteristically reached out to a couple that wandered into the shelter one day.
“Merlin put his rather large paw out and grabbed my husband’s shoulder — a feat in itself since three bullies kept pushing him into the corner and making him sit in his food,” Ferra said. “He was malnourished, skinny, oily, messy and sad.”
Ferra hesitated. Long-haired cats usually mean lots of shedding on clothes, carpets and couches. A cat with such a complicated history would present challenges as well.
“Once my husband held him, well, my thoughts of avoiding lots of hair went out the window,” she said.
The Ferras brought Shadow home and renamed him Merlin, a name befitting such a regal feline. They were surprised to discover he didn’t shed much despite his great tufts of wild fur. A subsequent DNA test identified him as a Siberian forest cat, an ancient, accidental breed that developed its characteristics naturally because it lived in isolation from other cat populations, deep within the Russian tundra.
Siberians have quite a few unique qualities. They have three fur layers — guard, awn and down hair — and rival Maine Coons in their floofiness, but their fur is easy to maintain and resistant to matting. They moult twice a year. Their moulting phases are milder than similarly-floofy cats, and their fur has lower levels of the allergen Fel-d1.
Merlin was fearful and shy in his new home, and it became clear that he was not going to soften any time soon. He’d flinch, hinting at past traumas: “You couldn’t raise a hairbrush near him, or hold your hand over his head to caress him.”
“It took five years to break through Merlin’s wall of anger and fear when we brought him home,” Ferra said. “We played it low key, never loud, pushy, punishing, forceful or insulting. By insulting I mean with Merlin, you don’t make deals! Deals always hurt his feelings.”
One day, Ferra was trying to get Merlin to play with one of his toys when he lashed out at her.
“He tore up my forearm. I was dripping blood from wrist to elbow. I didn’t move. He didn’t move. His eyes were black orbs. I could see the wheels spinning. ‘Will she hit me? Yell? Throw me? Send me away?’
“I exhaled slowly and in my calmest demeanor said to him: ‘Merlin, what are you still so angry about? Frightened about? Don’t you know by now no one is going to hurt you here? It’s been five years and you’re safe, honey. You’re home, nothing will ever harm you again. They’d have to go through your family, daddy and me. You’re not alone, my love.’ And damned if his pupils didn’t recede. He let out a little whimper and his whole body relaxed.”
From there, Ferra said, “it’s been belly kisses and raspberries,” but Merlin “was not a cuddler.”
“But like clockwork every week he would approach me, tap my leg and stare up at me. Not too mushy, but as if to say ‘I want a hug now!’ I ate up those two minutes. I’d pick him up and simulate his lost mom’s cheek rubs, which he loved and craved.”
Merlin developed health problems. In particular, his hips and neck began to bother him. Those are side effects typical of his breed, which has longer back legs that make Siberians powerful jumpers. He began suffering from hyperthyroidism and arthritis in his later years.
At seven years old, Merlin fought off a bout of pneumonia. But when he came down with it in early December, he didn’t have the strength to fight it off.
Ferra and her husband, Joe, stayed up with their beloved cat for almost 48 hours, monitoring him. Her husband even put off his dialysis to stay with the little guy.
But by Tuesday, when Merlin could no longer lift his head, Ferra knew it was the end. Merlin was euthanized on the morning of Dec. 9 at the veterinarian’s office. He was 13 years old.
The typical symptoms of grief set in: Ferra kept looking for the little furball, momentarily forgetting he was gone. She left his food bowl and his water fountain untouched. Her life suddenly had a vacuum in it.
That this happened now in the midst of a pandemic, as the death and infection rates skyrocket, lock-downs begin anew and the prospect of a dark winter casts a gloom over life, makes Merlin’s absence especially challenging. The Ferras’ children are adults, and their house is now quiet. Merlin’s presence mitigated the isolation and dreariness of life in a pandemic, as cats and dogs have done for millions of Americans this year.
For Joe, even his treatments remind him of his cat: Merlin would stand guard when Joe settled in for dialysis, remaining for the length of the treatment.
Ferra said she and her husband are considering adopting litter mates or inseparable friends. They feel Merlin would want them to provide a home to new cats.
“Joe has asked me how long I need until we open our home and hearts to a bonded pair. My husband can’t stand the emptiness. I just need a little more time. But with COVID and and the overflowing shelters I feel even Merlin wouldn’t want me to wait too long.”
Special thanks to Meg for talking to us about Merlin despite her fresh grief at losing the special little guy. We wish Meg and Joe the best this holiday season, and when they open their home to new kitties who need some love and a place to call their own.
“I’m sorry we doubted you, Mr. Quaid. Now how can we help you?”
That’s how we imagine the initial call went when Dennis Quaid — the actor — saw photos of Dennis Quiad — the cat — and called the shelter, whose staff were initially suspicious, adoption manager Danielle Ulmer said.
“I was like there is no way this is real, like, someone is pranking us,” Ulmer told WSLS, the local ABC affiliate.
Quaid is co-founder of the podcast company Audio Up, which produces a cast called The Pet Show. Jimmy Jellinek, who hosts the show, worked with the shelter to set up a Zoom call so Quaid could meet his feline counterpart — and the shelter could see they weren’t dealing with an elaborate prank.
“It took us a while for them to actually believe us,” Jellinek said.
Jellinek is expected to fly to Virginia this weekend to pick up Dennis Quaid the Cat and bring him to his forever home in Los Angeles.
“It was really off the wall, but I just couldn’t resist. I had to,” Quaid told WSLS. “I’m out to save all the Dennis Quaids of the world.”
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.