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Santa Rosa Woman Reunites 'Fire Cats' And Owners After Northern California Wildfires

A lost cat poster is taped to a light pole in the fire-devastated Coffey Park neighborhood on Oct. 14, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. (David McNew/Getty Images)
A lost cat poster is taped to a light pole in the fire-devastated Coffey Park neighborhood on Oct. 14, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the October wildfires in Northern California, one woman has devoted much of her time to finding lost cats — going out nightly with a group of volunteers.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Jennifer Petruska of Santa Rosa, California, about her efforts, which include a Facebook group created to help reunite pet owners and pets.

The three organizations that Petruska has partnered with are Wine Country Animal LoversNo Boundaries Animal Rescue and Outcast Cats Help.

Interview Highlights

On how she and other searchers look for missing cats

“As we go along, we create a process for how we find these cats. One of the things we do is we set up feeding stations — especially in my area, Coffey Park — and we put up 100 feeding stations right away, right after the fires, and we monitor those and refill them every single day. And when we start seeing somebody eating out of it, then we put in night cameras, and start seeing who’s coming. And due to the large number of pets that are missing, it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh that’s that particular cat from that particular house,’ when you have 30 brown tabbies missing and a dozen blackhaired, shorthaired cats. But once we get them on camera then we set a trap plan in place, and a huge group of volunteers are out there every single night catching these cats.”

On how many animals went missing in the area after the Tubbs Fire

“When we first started this, there were over 650 animals listed as missing from the fire. Of that 650 or so, we have caught 279, roughly. And those are rough numbers, because it changes daily.”

On what the cats are like after they’ve been found

Trapping is not a pleasant experience. Every cat we catch goes into a dark, quiet room, and they just stay covered and stay quiet for a few hours. We don’t attempt to microchip scan them or transfer them to a carrier or do anything until they’ve had some downtime.

On the moment owners are reunited with their cats

“The hugs, the tears, the shock, it’s all so overwhelming. I have people that want to rush down and get [the cat], and then they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have no litter box, I have no carrier,’ and I’m like, ‘Take a deep breath, it’ll be OK. The cat will spend the day with me until you can make it.’ And then lots and lots of tears, and just a lot of gratitude. Every reunion, it is so profound. You’ve gotta realize that these people have lost every bit of their lives. Their homes, their whole histories have been destroyed. And it is the one piece that we can give back to them that might not have been lost.”

On why she’s doing this work

“Because this community needed me. I felt that I started out … wanting to get tools donated, and I wanted to get art donated, and I realized right away that pets was where my heart really lay. So that’s where I turned my focus to.”

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