Firecats-Reunited, rescued cats from forest fires reunited with their families thanks to Shannon Jay.
by Robert Hudson
Shannon Jay has a rather unique mission: to find lost cats from the aftermath of a forest fire. Last month we introduced you to his work and how it all started. He has saved dozens of cats and reunited them with their families. In part 2 we bring you some of the stories of felines reunited with their families.
Thomas Risen From the Ashes
In this story, Shannon Jay rescues a cat who was thought to be dead from a fire after 49 days missing. This is an example of how diligent Shannon is and his uncanny way of finding these helpless cats.
“I walked through Split Rail Ct. with my thermal imaging scope scanning in the dark. Within five minutes I locked onto the unmistakable brilliant white hot heat signature of a cat sleeping in the rocks. Without that scope I never would have seen him. Lights are great if the cat is looking at you but it not, you’ll rarely see them. Set a trap nearby and left for a bit. Returned and nothing. Left the trap locked open overnight with a camera and returned yesterday morning with food still in the trap.
Kept all as it was and arrived last night around 9pm to check camera and there he was on film. He had eaten the food from the open trap! Quickly reset trap with food and left for a short spell. Upon arrival he was in the trap!!.
Heather and I took him home and scanned him……there was a chip. Meet Thomas. AVID emailed the owner who just called us! They are beside themselves as they believed he had perished. Once again here is a stunning example of a cat’s will to remain on this earth. Thomas survived for 49 days.
“In every way you are a force to be reckoned with. Over this last month each of the foundlings has left an indelible mark on me, each a story of tragedy, joy, grace, perseverance and a straight up strength to continue the fight. This hardens my resolve to stay in the fight.”
This story is close to Shannon Jay s heart. Ian was very distraught over the loss of his cat Akiko and Shannon was determined to meet the challenge. He worked closely with Ian and assured him along the way he would not give up. In his own words, Shannon shares with us the methodical steps taken.
“On my second trip up here to Southern Oregon on September 25, I made contact with a fire cat owner who was missing his cat named Akiko. I spoke with Ian on the 25th and asked what was going on and he advised that Akiko had been seen several times near her home and that he had a food station set up. Ian had no cameras but he saw her in the evenings when he would go put food out. It was evident from the moment I spoke to Ian that he was worried, despondent and that he loved his cat fiercely.
Healing a broken heart
I Told him I was willing to help and went to work the evening of 26 September. Set a trap in place to see how she’d respond and she did not enter. As I always do with my traps I placed a texting camera which is a special trail camera that transmits pictures to my iPhone in real time allowing me to monitor the trap without actually being on site.
For the next evening Akiko danced around my trap but would not enter so I decided it was time to move to a larger trap and I did. Akiko again refused to enter. It was apparent I had a tough case on my hands and it was going to require the use of a drop trap. and some other special equipment.
Battle of wits
The drop trap requires you to be on site to trigger it and so on night one on my last trip up(first few days of October)I set the drop trap up for a couple of nights to get Akiko accustomed to going underneath it and feeding. Akiko did go under the trap to feed a couple of nights and then I set it for real. Instead of using my electric remote control trigger I decided to use parachute cord and just pull it with a string the old fashioned way and did this for a reason.
The remote control trigger motor on the trap makes a noise a split second before the trap falls. An exceptionally hyper vigilant and aware cat will hear that noise a quarter of a second before the trap begins to fall and it is often enough for that cat to squirt out the side of the trap as it is falling over its head.
I know this well because it’s happened to me a couple of different times over the years. I learned to judge which type of a cat I can use the remote trigger on. Akiko was clearly of the type that I needed to use the parachute cord because it is utterly silent before the trap falls.
Next night I set the trap for real. I believed I was far enough away but something in my gut told me no. It proved to be correct. I tied a 65 foot section of parachute cord on to the trap before dark along with my texting camera on the trap. I was hiding in a hole 65 feet away. Right before dark Akiko arrived. I got a picture on my cell phone of her standing near the drop trap. Peering over the edge of my hole, I saw she was under the trap. She was standing 12 feet away locked on to me.
This is one of those situations where if you’re too close, even when downwind and silent, some how they know you’re present. This is the inexplicable sixth sense I’ve experienced and spoken of before. I stayed in my hole for another hour and never saw her. So, I decided to go out to the street at a distance of 150 feet. I was able to see the trap through my thermal imaging scope and verify if a cat went under the trap.
Akiko showed herself several times during the rest of the night but refused to go back under the drop trap. I was on site for 12 hours. Went back to motel and slept pretty much most the day and had one more night to take a shot at her. In short, I spent a total of 22 hours on the drop trap and Akiko was still out there.
Took last week off and did not come up to Oregon but made a plan with Ian for him to continue to feed and monitor Akiko while I was away. Kept my texting camera on site and received regular photographs of Akiko eating at the food station while I was gone.
I instructed Ian to withhold food on Wednesday night so that Akiko would be hungry for my arrival on Thursday. Akiko has a proclivity for arriving right before dark so I quietly set up 30 minutes before hand and had everything ready to include a 180 feet section of parachute cord. For this attempt
I used a custom built WiFi live cam that is pointed right at the trap and sends the image live to a wireless screen inside my truck. This allows me to see what’s going on at the drop trap in the dark. It can be a little bit glitchy but when it works it works great. This allows me to monitor the trap in the dark from a long way off and not have to rely solely on my thermal imaging scope. With everything set up and it starting to get dark I waited.
Started watching the screen on my live camera when Akiko showed up and went under the trap and began eating. Due to the angle of the live camera I couldn’t tell if she was completely under the trap. I took a quick peek out the window with my thermal scope, confirming she was all the way in the trap. Took a quieting breath and ripped that parachute cord for all I was worth it and it was done.
Akiko did not incur any injuries. But was malnourished, filthy and a bit dehydrated after her survival for five weeks in the burn zone. “
In this case, Shannon Jay rescued a badly injured kitty that needed urgent care. He got a call from a friend that a cat named Honey Bun had been spotted near a families burned property. It appeared to be in bad shape.
“One mile or so from the house the very distinctive and powerful odor of burned houses hit me. So funny how odors can instantly transport us to another time and place in this world and that is exactly what happened.”
Searching in the dark
We parked at the property and began searching in the darkness with thermal imaging scopes. Nothing. I walked to the road side of the house that was still standing. A food and water bowl was adjacent a fence. I looked down and Honey Bun was laying right next to it. Immediately I knew that she was indeed in bad shape. Her coat was singed, ears burned off, whiskers gone and was very emaciated.
I hand signaled to Aline to circle around the back side as Honey Bun slowly walked to the back. Once Aline was in position, I walked toward Honey Bun. She tried to get past Aline, who grabbed her with her arm and tried to pin her to her body. Honey Bun started to squeeze out of Aline’s grasp. That’s when I swiftly grabbed her by the scruff and secured her.”
A Nice Surprise!
Originally Shannon Jay was told the cat was feral, but after the cat was brought to the hospital he discovered the cat had an owner. But the cat was kept outside, ignored and the owner had no desire to pay for the cat’s recovery. So the vet suggested Shannon have the owner sign the cat over.
Shannon Jay knew she had it in her. I put out a call for help to pay for her significant care costs. Folks came out of the woodwork to donate over $9,000 directly to the vet hospital for her treatment.”
Firestorm- Camp Fire, one of the most devastating forest fires in California history
During his time at the Camp Fire, Shannon Jay endured over 1000 hours inside the burn zone. He would go on to rescue approximately 150 fire cats.
“After several months inside I was contacted by a woman who lived in Paradise, who’s home did not burn. She told me of a fire cat that had shown up to her porch that looked to be lost. He was skittish and would bolt at the first sight of a human.
Try Try Again
Lauren told me the cat had a collar and a name tag. We tried hard to rescue him. But he became quite a challenge as he would show and then disappear for days at a time. Lauren and I tried any number of combinations of traps to lure him in and none of it was working.
She agreed to continue to leave food and water out on her deck for this feline. I was still actively searching for and rescuing fire cats and I knew she’d keep him fed. The Winter of 2018/2019 was the wettest on record for this region.
Never give up
A couple of months later, I asked Lauren to see if this ‘Holy Grail’ kitty was still around. She said she saw him. There are two instances when we will call a feline a Holy Grail kitty. The presence of a collar with name tag and a feline with a microchip. These are incredibly rare in these wild fires and so I began calling them Holy Grail cats.
Signs of trouble
Lauren told me that despite her trying to keep him well fed, he was losing weight and not looking healthy. He still had on his collar but it was getting looser and looser around his neck as his weight dropped. I made a decision with Lauren and committed wholly to rescuing this fire cat in trouble.
I set up a drop trap for several evenings. On 20 June, 2019 as darkness fell, I rescued the wayward boy and brought him back to my base camp. His sagging collar and name tag identified him as “Chester”. Called the number that evening and got a call back the next morning from Chester’s family. They did not lose their home but everything around them in the neighborhood had been annihilated by the fire. They could not find Chester. Somehow Chester never made it home despite me rescuing him from about ½ mile away from home it.”
Shannon Jay has even saved a lost cat during a flood!
The Sacramento River flooded and a batch of homeless kitties climbed into the nearby oak trees to escape the flood. They were trapped without shelter or food for 9 plus days in pounding rain and cold temperatures. Cowgirl was named after the homeless man who looked after her, a local man known as Cowboy. She was scared and acted feral but In fact was not. She came to stay with Heather and I for a couple of months before being adopted by a loving family. Today she lives happily with them.
The reunion of “Callie”. Her guardian is this elder statesman suffering from Dementia, lost his home during the Camp Fire. His daughter contacted me asking me to search for her as all he did was ask about his Callie…well I made good on a promise, rescued and reunited her.
Shannon Jay has dozens and dozens of such stories, having saved hundreds of cats, and even a dog or two. A retired police officer, Shannon Jay really goes above and beyond. He shows love and tenderness in face of great hardship to help others. Something we need much more of these days. Leave a comment for Shannon below! If you would like to ask him a question, just post it here.