The clean-up and emotional healing are underway at the fire-stricken Street Cats Rescue as officials and the felines under their care now deal with the aftermath.
The Shanty Bay Road facility, just outside the Barrie city limits, cannot be used due to smoke and water damage from Friday’s fire, executive director Carol Snow tells BarrieToday.
She isn’t even sure when they’ll get back into the facility.
“The most important thing is everyone is OK, all the cats survived,” Snow said Monday. “With the building, there are things like the gas and hydro — the gas meter was burned off. There is some structural damage at the back.
"The landlord has to have his insurance people come in and we’re at the mercy of that right now," she added.
Oro-Medonte Township firefighters were called to the blaze near Colborne Street at 11:20 a.m., May 26.
A garbage truck close to Street Cats Rescue caught on fire and spread quickly to the building, with embers flying into the building, Snow said.
While they have to wait to see if their part of the shared building is salvageable, she hopes to stay put at that location.
“People have asked if we want to move and I tell them no," Snow said. "We’ve put a lot of work into that building and made it very custom for a cat shelter — not just for the cats but for the people. We’ve made it a cozy and fun place for them to work and volunteer.
"Now, if we have to (move) then that's a bridge we’ll cross then, or if the right place came about and it worked, then we’d have to think about it," she added.
While firefighters battled the blaze on Friday, additional township stations were called for assistance. Crews were able to get the fire under control quickly. Mutual aid was also requested from Barrie Fire and Emergency Service and a city crew responded to help.
The garbage truck is a write-off and the building sustained damage estimated at $80,000 to $100,000, according to township officials.
There are several other businesses in the building, including the cat shelter.
The province's Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) was contacted and is not investigating the blaze.
However, what caused the fire remains undetermined.
"Within minutes, our building was on fire and we were trying to get cats out," Snow recalled of Friday's emergency. "I was using fire extinguishers inside and the fire kept coming and the windows blew out. Within minutes, the smoke was so black you just couldn't see.”
Snow said she has never been in a situation like that and was so focused on the shelter's cats getting out that she didn’t think about herself.
“We got about a third of them out and then emergency services wouldn't let us go back in,” she said. “They took us away in ambulances, much to our dismay. I thought for sure some of the animals were not going to make it. It was a long time they were in there.
"Even after the fire was out, it was a while until they got them out, but they were all accounted for. It was out-of-this-world terrifying," Snow added.
All 56 cats were safely removed from the building, but Snow said there are about 100 more in foster homes that still need care.
“The rescue is still running and we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "The world didn't stop for us or the cats — we have a job to do and we’ll keep doing it."
The foster homes and makeshift shelters still need supplies, so volunteers are tending to that, but Snow said other things need to be done so they can get back on track.
“One of the cats from the fire was due for dental work done this week and we have opted to keep that as it is needed,” Snow said.
One of the main challenges the shelter and its staff/volunteers are facing now is not being able to be together.
“We’re so scattered right now, and even though there are many of us, we are very much cogs on a big wheel,” Snow said. “Right now, all those cogs have flown off into different directions and the wheel is a little wobbly.”
This week, the shelter is hosting a volunteer meeting to get everyone together and talk about their feelings and what happened.
“This was a very traumatic experience for all of us. We need to let people deal with this and get things off their chest,” Snow said. “From there, we need to make a list of what needs to be done and get everyone’s input on that.
"Stuff needs to go to the dump, there are cats at vet clinics, cats at another location we have to manage, so who is doing what and when”
Many of the cats are at various vet clinics, with the rescue workers tending to them throughout the day.
“What's very interesting is we will go to the vets and be told how the cats are standoff-ish and not really warming up to some vet staff. But the staff tells us when we get there, they perk up like, ‘Oh, there is my mom and dad.’ It is really eye-opening how they know us, rely on us and need us,” said Snow.
Snow admitted that the feeling goes both ways, and is something she found out Saturday.
“The last few days, all we’ve seen as a group is this tragedy, talked about it, relived it," she said. "Late Saturday, one of our volunteers had done two videos which had been worked on for several months, just little cat videos and stuff like that. She posted them the other day and, I know for me, I took a seat and it was the first time I had actually cried.
“The next day, I went right to one of the clinics and stayed with a few of the cats for like two hours, hugging and kissing them," Snow added. "That video made me remember how much we are needed for them, how happy the are with us. So yeah, at that moment, I needed them as much as they need us.”