Laura Burns considers herself lucky. Even after a recent house fire destroyed her home and possessions, all of her family is safe, and in her words, everything else is “just things.”
On the night of Oct. 2, the kitchen of the Burns' house in the 1400 block of Walker Street, caught fire from what Fire Marshal Chad Payne is reporting was “food that was left cooking on the stove.” The Gainesville Fire Department quickly arrived on scene about 6:45 p.m., extinguishing the blaze and retrieving three cats from different areas of the home.
According to Gainesville Fire Department Division Chief Keith Smith, “All three cats were breathing when they were found but not very well.” Smith said all of the cats were given oxygen and began to recover.
Though not actually burned, two of the cats, Oreo and Two, exhibited signs of serious carbon monoxide poisoning and injuries from smoke inhalation.
Burns recounts that as she drove through Gainesville trying to find a vet that would admit them, the two cats were too weak to stand on their own and were clearly sick.
“I was sobbing, on the phone, and trying to drive,” Burns said.
Burns said that by the time she found Animal Emergency of Gainesville on Pearl Nix Parkway, it seemed almost certain the cats were going to die.
“When they came in, neither looked good at all,” said Dr. Jesse Brown, medical director of Animal Emergency.
Brown and his staff immediately admitted the cats and began to treat them.
When they were stabilized, Burns broke down and explained to Brown that she had lost everything and had no money to pay for the care.
“I told him that I literally had nothing, and he said, ‘That’s OK,’” Burns said.
Brown said that at the hospital, which is open all night when other vet offices are closed, the staff sees many people who come in and claim to not be able to afford care for their animals, but that it is unusual for the hospital to do work pro bono. Brown explained that something about Burns’ sincerity and the situation stuck with him and told him to help.
“We really don’t do that. But if someone is burnt out of their house and has lost everything, you gotta do something for them. No matter what,” Brown said.
Since the fire, both cats have been under observation at the animal hospital and have been steadily recovering day by day.
Oreo, the 5-year-old black female, was returned home on Monday night. But Oreo’s older brother, Two, a 12-year-old tabby, will remain at the hospital under observation for the time being. Brown expects a “happy ending” for Two if his recovery continues, saying that as of Monday blood work for the cat appears to be promising.
“He is now at the point Oreo was when they came in,” Brown said. “But then Two was dying, and anything is better than that.”
Even sick and scared from their experience, the two cats are responsive to attention. Two gazes out of his cage cautiously with half-lidded eyes, an IV in one small furry arm. And Oreo crawls lazily to the bars of her cage, growling and purring loudly.
“These are both really great cats. I’m glad we have been able to help these people,” said Brown, explaining that he was happy to help a family in need because that is why Animal Emergency of Gainesville exists in the first place, to help sick and hurt animals.
Burns is more than grateful for the help, saying that to lose everything and then have to face the idea of losing members of the family is a terribly hard position to be in.
“We as a society need to do more like this,” she said.