They Were All Loved

Christmastime, 2008, we blogged about a devastating fire at the Durham Humane Society shelter. Only a handful of animals escaped.

Staff and volunteers at the shelter were more than heartbroken at the loss of the small creatures in their charge that perished from smoke inhalation in that 3 a.m. fire.

Today, after two years of rebuilding under “Project Phoenix”, Durham Humane opened its new shelter. But the animals that lost their lives two years ago have not been forgotten.

Carola Vyhnak covered the shelter re-opening in the Star today. The animals that lost their lives in the fire will never be forgotten. As one of the shelter staff wrote to me two years ago: “They were all loved.”

If you are charitably inclined this season, please consider making a donation to The Humane Society of Durham Region. These folks really do care.

Here, verbatim, is Carola’s story.

It was a scene Karin Martens will never forget.

At three o’clock in the morning, emergency vehicles clogging the snow-swept street, rescued dogs in police cars, and inside the Durham Region humane society’s burning shelter, 140 animals dead from smoke inhalation.

Ten dogs, two cats and the shelter rat, Baby Bernard, were the only survivors of the shelter fire.

“I just burst into tears,” Martens, president of the society’s volunteer board, recalls of the tragedy that killed 100 cats, 20 dogs and 20 small pets.

But Tipsey, Cinderella, Peaches and the 137other furry souls are coming home for the holidays. On Friday, exactly two years since the fire on Dec. 17, 2008, their cremated remains will arrive in a cherrywood box at a beautiful new shelter in Whitby.

It will be a difficult moment for Martens, shelter staff and volunteers.

“A company has sent us 100 boxes of Kleenex for when we bring the ashes in during the ribbon-cutting,” says Martens, tears already welling up.

Animal care attendant Nicole Pevie knew all the fire victims but had her favourite — a cat named Quincey.

“I have a little Christmas tree ornament with her picture in it that I hang on my tree every year,” she says.

But in the midst of so much sadness, there’s joy and new life inside the bright, spacious $2.1 million facility on Wentworth St., just south of Hwy. 401.

The humane society’s latest rescue, a horribly gaunt but surprisingly happy 14-year-old Staffordshire terrier named Nemesis, got a sneak peek — and a chance to anoint the floor this week.

Unlike the overcrowded, temporary shelter, the new digs have everything a dog (or cat or rabbit or lizard) could want: individual living quarters, indoor and outdoor play areas, room to run, windows to see out. Then there’s the stuff that humans care about: geothermal heating, solar tubes for natural lighting, easy-to-clean surfaces for a healthy environment.

It is the shelter that love built, says Martens, grateful for donations from every corner of the country.

“I want people to see this and say, ‘I helped make it happen’,” she beams with pride. “When a little child says, ‘I collected 36 dollars and 11 cents,’ that’s everything to them. They felt the pain too.”

Thirteen-year-old Quinton Abramson is one such child.

“I just love animals,” says the Grade 8 Whitby student, explaining why he organized a bake sale, barbecue, bottle drive and saved up his Christmas and birthday money to donate $4,100 to the cause. And did you know he has eight pets of his own?

With $1.4 million from the federal and provincial governments, there is still $375,000 left to raise, says Martens. (Donations can be made online at humanedurham.com.)

As fundraising continues, the polished wooden urn will move into its final resting place in the lobby, a box of tissues nearby.

Source: Toronto Star, December 17, 2010

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