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Dog Saves Woman's Life From Animal Shelter Fire

San Francisco Chronicle via YellowBrix

May 21, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – A dozen cats died in a fire that damaged the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society early today, authorities said, but a woman who lives above the animal shelter is crediting her pit bull mix with waking her up and saving her life.

The fire broke out in a dryer at the shelter at 2700 Ninth Street in west Berkeley at about midnight, Assistant Fire Chief Sabina Imrie said. The dryer was running at the time, but the reason for the fire is under investigation, authorities said.

The blaze killed 12 cats that were waiting to be adopted. It destroyed the cat-sheltering area, laundry and offices, shelter officials said. Damage was estimated at $500,000.

Word quickly spread about the fire, and 10 shelter volunteers went to the scene, Imrie said. The volunteers and firefighters were able to save about 10 other cats and all 14 dogs at the facility.

“It was an immediate response by the volunteers, who worked side by side with fire and evacuated animals,” Imrie said.

Johanna White, who lives in an apartment above the shelter, was sleeping when her pit bull-boxer mix, Baby, began barking after the fire broke out. White had been sick and didn’t hear the smoke detectors in her home, Imrie said.

“The dog started whimpering and jumping on her,” Imrie said.

White told reporters that had it not been for her dog, she could have died.

“I’m just so grateful that my dog woke me up,” White said. “I’m just so, so lucky that I have a good dog. I was not a dog fan, either. She’s my husband’s and my daughter’s dog. I might have to re-evaluate my stance.”

White said only she and Baby had been home at the time of the fire. “She’s definitely a keeper,” White said of her dog. “She adopted us, too – a couple of years ago, she just showed up.”

Some of the animals that survived the fire are being cared for by Humane Society staffers, and others are at a veterinary emergency service. The shelter is asking for donations and for volunteers to temporarily foster the displaced animals.