Nearly 20 cats owe at least one of their nine lives to Oasis for Animals owner Jean Favini following a fire on Saturday.
The Langley cat rescue organization owner defied warnings of a 911 official and charged into a smoke-filled office with a towel around her face to save her feline charges. She made several trips into the building, returning each time with an armload of cats.
“All I cared about was the cats, so I said there was no way I wasn’t going to get them from the office,” Favini said. “I had to make a decision, and I’m so thankful I did. I’m just sad I didn’t go in sooner.”
She and a South Whidbey firefighter brought out all 24 cats in the building. Five did not survive, reportedly dying from smoke inhilation.
Oasis for Animals is a no kill rescue organization that spays and neuters feral cats before putting them up for adoption.
The fire began at about 4:30 p.m. in the building next to her home. It’s an accessory dwelling unit that she’s converted for use as a shelter and Oasis’ headquarters.
The blaze is believed to have been an electrical fire that started from a stove or microwave; neither were in use at the time.
Flames were small and didn’t burn the entire office, instead claiming the appliances, damaging countertops and part of the wall.
Favini’s smoke detector failed to activate when the cat-filled room filled with smoke. She only realized there was a problem when, from her driveway, she heard meowing.
She then saw smoke pouring from a vent.
“It was a relatively small fire, and it was out by the time we had gotten there,” Chief Rusty Palmer said. “A few cats perished from the smoke. Jean thinks one of the cats may have turned a stove burner on.”
Once Favini and firefighters grabbed all the cats by the scruff of their necks, she and firefighters attempted to resuscitate them. She said she tried “mouth to snout” to check if the soot-covered felines were breathing. One kitten had died by the time it was outside, and another died shortly after.
Two had to be euthanized, and another didn’t make it through Sunday night.
“I thought we were going to lose them all,” Favini said. “My face, hands and hair were black, so I had to go to the hospital later to get tested for smoke inhalation.”
Though it paints a grim picture, Favini wore a large grin on her face when a reporter visited the site Monday afternoon due to the large portion saved from the smoky office.
Although sneezes and kitty coughs could be heard at the other office space where the rescued cats were being held, Favini said they were showing signs of improvement.
A couple of them ate for the first time during the reporter’s visit, and Favini said they were “finally acting like cats again.”
Soot could still be seen coming out of the cats’ mouths and noses.
Following the fire, Favini provided health care for the cats with the help of Robben Jones, the former owner of South Whidbey Animal Clinic. Jones worked on the cats with Favini to give them antibiotics and a diuretic and to nebulize them to assist breathing. Jones received an OK from current clinic owner, Dr. Eric Patrin, to use medications from the clinic.
Patrin was off island for the holiday.
“I used to be Jean’s vet years ago,” Jones said. “We set up an assembly line and got through treating them all eventually.”
“I don’t do emergencies, but they were animals in need of help and that’s what I’m trained to do.”
Favini is using the incident to raise awareness about the importance of regularly updating fire detection devices. She hadn’t replaced the smoke detector in more than 10 years, which Palmer said is important to do.
Favini also suggests unplugging devices that could spark at night, since it appears the fire was caused by the microwave.
Despite the potentially traumatic experience, Favini is in good spirits. With many of the cats’ health improving, she is finding the time to smile in the midst of the aftermath.
“It’s just great to see them bounce around in their cages again,” Favini said. “To see them playing again and closing their mouths when they breath makes me smile.”
“I think I needed that.”
To help pay for the medical expenses, she is taking donations via the Oasis for Animals Paypal account.