Finding Tabitha

The following post is by Kat Kendon, Red Paw’s Philadelphia Coordinator


You learn quickly as an emergency responder that there’s only one way to arrive on the scene – prepared. I’ve arrived to find owners holding their pets with no collars, leashes, or carriers; responded for a displaced cat but left with four; and waded through a pitch-black flooded basement searching for newly born kittens. One recent response put preparedness to the test.

A client lost her home to a fire but knew her cat was still in the building. I arrived on the scene just as it was beginning to snow. Luckily, or so I thought, the cat was in the bedroom and should’ve been fairly easy to grab. I found the clients keeping warm in a neighbor’s home, and she offered the first surprise – her cat, who was pregnant, sounded like she was having kittens right before they lost their home. Gulp. One cat had suddenly turned into an unknown number, and momma cats just love to hide their kittens. I went back to the truck – thank goodness I had the bigger carrier with me. I grabbed my flashlight and headed in with the Red Cross responder.


As soon as we opened the door I knew this one wouldn’t be simple – the house was completely destroyed. The walls in every room were completely coated in soot. The ceiling was crumbling, leaving soaking clumps of plaster and lath all over the floor. The stairs were the worst off – the crumbled walls made them into more of a hill than stairs. The inside of the first floor was pitch black, so climbing the stairs was like climbing an icy mountain. At midnight. With no moon. Sneakers would have been treacherous – but my heavy duty responder boots were up for the challenge.


Climbing up to the second floor, I quickly realized that “in the bedroom” was a loose idea. At least the restoration companies hadn’t arrived on scene yet, so there was a bit of light coming through the holes where the windows had been. All of the windows in every room were shattered, glass was everywhere, and the doors were off their hinges. Getting down on hands and knees to look under furniture seemed crazy, but I had heavy leather gloves to protect myself from all the broken glass.

Vision can only take you so far – cats can get into the deepest and darkest corners. Sweeping the flashlight around the room, I was straining my ears for little kitten meows. I heard nothing other than water dripping through the soaked building. I started to think that I might end up finding kittens who hadn’t made it through the intense smoke of the fire…but I kept looking. The Red Cross responder guarded the top of the stairs in case I ended up flushing a scared cat out during my search.


By the time I got to the third room, my optimism was starting to flag. I hadn’t even seen a sign of the cat or her litter – no paw prints in the soot, and no meows. But just when I was thinking it was time to make a new plan, I noticed a mirror leaning up against the wall, and behind it…a little bit of tail? I pulled the mirror back to find a frightened cat, and incredibly, still pregnant! I scooped her up and quickly got her to Red Paw headquarters, apparently just in the nick of time, where she went into labor within her first day in Red Paw care.

Both RP1 and my truck are fully stocked for all types of responses – when Red Paw arrives on a scene, we rarely find exactly what we had planned for. Tabitha, Elaine, Rory, Bagheera, Pif, and Firefly are one surprise that we arrived prepared for!

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