A pit bull dog saved his owner as flames ripped through the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society Shelter early Thursday morning. A dozen cats were not so lucky and perished in the flames.JoHanna White, who lived in an apartment above the shelter, said the dog, named "Baby,'' jumped on her as she slept and woke her up during the fire.
White, coordinator of the annual Witches Ball in Benicia, told television station KTVU that Baby saved her life.
"I'm so grateful my dog woke me up," an emotional White told KTVU. "I'm just so, so lucky. I have a good dog. I was not a dog fan either. He's my husband and daughter's dog. I may have to re-evaluate my stance. He's definitely a keeper."
The blaze broke out after midnight in the society's shelter on the 2700 block of Ninth Street.
Berkeley Fire Department spokeswoman Sabina Imrie said the fire is still under investigation but investigators suspect it was caused by a dryer in the first-floor laundry room. She estimated building damages to be $500,000.
Imrie said employees and volunteers arrived shortly after fire fighters at the two-story shelter and helped rescue about 25 cats and dogs.
They were too late, however, to save some of the cats.
"It's absolutely devastating," said society communications director Katherine O'Donnell.
Tears streamed down O'Donnell's face as she gave a tour of the burned-out building where the cats were housed.
"The door between the cat and dog rooms was closed, so that kept some of the smoke from overwhelming the dogs." About 15 dogs are housed in outdoor kennels next to the main building and none were harmed, she said.The 15 cats that survived were brought to a local animal hospital.
"Right now we need to find foster homes for the dogs and cats," O'Donnell said.
"We save about 800 animals a year and this fire will put a significant damper on what we do."
The building now has no electricity, phone or water service.
The society is asking for donations to help the surviving animals and to start to rebuild, O'Donnell said. More information can be found at www.berkeleyhumane.org.
Update May 24, 2010 7:20pm - KFRC reports that Baby and her family, who lost their home and all possessions in the fire, are still in need of a home and funds to help get them back on their feet.
Donations can be dropped off at The Sacred Well, 536 Grand Avenuein the Oakland/Berkeley area, and at The Red Raven, 1505 Louisiana Street in Vallejo.
Oh, and Baby likes chewing on Pig Ears. (No, not live ones).