Saving Fire Cats- One man goes above and beyond
Saving Fire Cats
by Robert Hudson
Shannon Jay spent several years in the service of law enforcement before becoming a savior of cats lost or injured due to wild fires that reached human populations. He has done this without the help of any organization. Although he is certified as an EMT, he never had any experience in fire fighting or going into hot zones. Every year the fire season rages havoc that brings devastation, loss and pain. It claims the lives of pets and wildlife. Each year it only gets worse.
One man takes it upon himself to go to the sites and search for cats in the rubble He has developed an uncanny success in locating felines still alive and reuniting them with their loved ones. In his own words, Shannon shares with us what it is like to to enter a fire zone and navigate through the carnage to reach the little still beating hearts.
He began sharing his rescues on Facebook and caught the attention of a documentary film maker. The film has yet to be shown.
Saving Fire Cats- How it all started
“About a year before my first wildfire deployment (2017 Sonoma County, CA “Tubbs Fire”) one of my indoor only cats escaped from our home and vanished without a trace. I did everything Imaginable to try to get him home. Along the way I made many mistakes i would later find out. On day five I found a “lost cat finder” website and contacted the owner and real expert.
I hired her remotely to coach me on what to do to find my lost boy, PK. After 13 agonizing days and nights we got him back! Her guidance is the only reason we got him home. In that two weeks I learned so much about displaced cat behavior, primarily that when they are under duress they turn into a completely different animal. I made so many mistakes and when coached i learned what to do as well as what not to do.”.
Saving Fire Cats
“Fast forward to about one year later on 8 October, 2017. I’m an overnight patient in a large hospital in Santa Rosa, CA. I was experiencing some complications from a brain surgery a couple of months earlier. Unknown to me at the time, The Tubbs Fire had sparked to life about 25 miles to east around 10 pm, driven by sustain 50-60 mph winds that were driving it right toward Santa Rosa.
At 0400 a.m. I was suddenly jerked awake from my slumber by a nurse screaming at me through my sleep fog. She said the hospital was almost on fire and it was being evacuated! After she pulled my IV’s, i quickly ditched my hospital gown and changed into a T shirt, flip flops and board shorts before descending to the lobby from the fourth floor.
As I exited the hospital front door I was instantly hit with a 60 mph wind blast, and was looking at a scene straight out of a Mad Maxx movie…howling winds, ashes the size of pancakes flying horizontally through the air and smoke so thick you could cut it with a fork. It was about 80 degrees out and a very menacing vibe hanging in the air. “
“There were more emergency vehicles in the vicinity than I had ever seen in one place at one time (and I was a full time law enforcement officer for 33 years of my life!). It was surreal at best and mind boggling. I was being herded onto a bus to be transported to another hospital about 40 miles away. I politely declined the ride, asked them to show me as “self discharged”, and walked away.
I had a dead cell phone but snuck back into the now abandoned hospital and called my girlfriend to come fetch me up. I Told her I’d be walking away from the hospital as there were hundreds of emergency vehicles (fire, EMS, police) and she wouldn’t get near it. As I looked around I saw fire coming in fast from the north, slower from the west and east with no fire to the south…I went south. Girlfriend found me an hour and a half later and we made it home at 0630.
A new mission in life- Saving Fire Cats was born
I promptly turned on the TV and was horrified to see this catastrophe unfolding. In the end the Tubbs Fire destroyed 5,500 homes and killed 24 persons. While we watched the fire wipe neighborhood after neighborhood off the map I told Heather there were going to be hundreds of cats needing to be found and rescued and believed I could help. After my lost cat episode I thought I had learned enough to be of help. “
The First Fire Cat Rescue
“My first rescue occurred during the 2017 Sonoma County, California TUBBS FIRE. I gained access into the burn zone about 12 days after the fire and during the first evening out I found a cat living in a school yard that was surrounded by the fire before it was extinguished. I left food out for her and was able to trap her within two nights. She was mostly feral and I named her “Firecracker” for her personality. Firecracker was transferred to a local feline rescue and eventually placed into a “barn kitty” program.”
What has been your most memorable rescue?
This is a very tough one, Robert. There are a handful that really stand out but, in the end, I’d have to say if I have to choose one it would be the rescue of “Mama Cat”. I gained entry into the 2018 Paradise, California “Camp Fire” on day five. To date and likely for some time to come, the Camp Fire was the most destructive wildfire in California history and probably US history.
That fire annihilated an entire mountain city and wiped it off the map, burning to the ground some 15,500 homes and structures and taking 84 human souls from this earth forever.
Saving Fire Cats-the chase
On day 7 I was out searching the burn zone in daylight and located a pair of clearly burned fire cats in the driveway of a burned home. I stepped out of my vehicle and slowly approached and when I did, they both bolted in two separate directions. I went after the cat that was more badly burned, tracking her as she did her best to get away from me.
She wedged herself deep into the undercarriage of a full sized burned-out pick-up truck where there was no possible way to get to her. The wheels were melted and I had to crawl on my belly with a flashlight to get a look at her as she wailed in pain from her burns.
The truck body was about three inches off the ground, nearly flat to the asphalt. I knew I couldn’t reach her and so left a trap with food adjacent the engine compartment where she was holed up and left for a couple of hours hoping she’d come out to eat and go into the trap.
I was learning not just about lost/displaced cat behavior but also injured/burned cat behavior. I had no understanding at the time that a badly burned cat has zero interest in food, such is their pain, and they will not enter a trap.
When I returned a couple of hours later she hadn’t moved. As night fell, I was required to leave the burn zone as the authorities in the early stages of the fire were not allowing any nighttime rescue work. I left a bowl of food and water adjacent the truck and left for the evening. Upon my return the next morning I was disheartened to see the food and water untouched and the kitty still inside the bowels of the truck and screaming in pain.
With me was a well-known cinematographer hired to film my rescue work for a documentary film. His name is Douglas Thron. I began to panic for a couple of moments, telling Doug that if we didn’t’ get her out of that truck she would lay inside and die a slow and agonizing death.
I came up with a plan and we put it into motion. That plan entailed using my truck’s tire jack to lift the burned-out vehicle. To “crib” it up I used a pallet of cinderblocks that happened to be at the property.
This operation transpired over an hour and a half. I was slowly jacking and adding cinder blocks to stabilize the vehicle and get it high enough to crawl under. As this was happening, she continued to wail in pain. Severe burns and caustic diesel fuel that had leaked from the fuel tank covered her body.
When I got the truck high enough to barely wiggle in on my belly, I told Doug we were only going to get one chance. The emotional pressure was immense. I realized If I missed the grab and she slipped out the chances of getting her back were about none. In every sense, her life was in my hands. My success or failure to rescue her was going to determine the rest of her life.
Saving Fire Cats- Determination
I crawled under the truck and told myself that no matter what I was going to grab her and not let go. When I did, she went crazy and fought me. But she was so week and in pain she had very little fight left in her. Douglas had to grab my feet and pull me out because I had both hands on kitty.
I had a carrier ready to go and we placed her in and it was over just like that. I had to walk away for a few moments and compose myself. The pressure of the rescue was leaving my body.
We rushed her to a vet hospital about 25 minutes away for treatment. I found out the next day that she lived at the property and that her name was Mama Cat. I was in contact with her family the next day. The family had lost everything and were elated I had rescued their Mama Cat. Mama Cat survived for all those days with devastating burns to all four of her feet, face, and body.
She was in the hospital for twenty-three days and in bandages for sixty-two days. Mama came home with me to heal and in the end the family asked me to be her guardian. Over the next two weeks, I would go on to rescue Mama Cat’s two grown sons, Bub and Earl, and another family cat named Keke. All from the same property.”
The rescue was emotionally charged and under pressure because he knew he had to get it right. “I witnessed this cat survive impossible odds. It taught me a cat has a will to survive unlike any animal. ”
In the next installment, you will meet several reunited fire cat survivors and more stories.
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