It’s still tough for the volunteers who come and go from Room No. 1.
The little room at the Animal Aid Humane Society in Moline is where 11 cats perished one year ago today in a fire that turned the no-kill shelter upside-down.
The president of Animal Aid, Vickie Sanders, remembers the long hours of searching for the dozens of cats that fled for their lives. She keeps pictures on her cellphone to remind her of the love and support that poured out of the community like smoke from Room No. 1.
“I was down at the ditch behind the shelter, and I took this picture of the cars that were parked up and down on both sides of the road,” she said Tuesday. “People were coming down to help look for the cats. They wanted to see what they could do.
“They brought us donations and water and carriers.”
In addition to the 11 fatalities, two cats, Lady and Jane, never were found. Another died after the fire from injuries related to smoke exposure.
“That’s CJ,” Sanders said, pointing to a well-fed, sleeping cat. “It took four months to catch him. He was down in the mulch pile with the raccoons. It was traumatic for all of them, especially having to move after the fire.
“They’ve all adjusted now, I think.”
The survivors of the fire have had to make room over the past year for many more homeless cats and dogs. In fact, their repainted and repaired home at 239 50th St., Moline, is accommodating about 75 cats and a half-dozen dogs.
Within the past week, Animal Aid has taken in 15 new residents.
“We were getting down to about 60 cats, which is a pretty good number for us,” Sanders said. “Counting kittens, we were once up to 120 cats.”
The Jan. 30 fire was not the only hardship Animal Aid has endured.
“On Dec. 18, we were robbed,” she said. “They took our two laptops. We went through a flood several years ago.”
But the staff of an entirely volunteer-run organization, providing care for hundreds of lost or abandoned animals each year, has no expectation that things will be easy. The rebuilding took considerable time and resources, but the volunteers are committed, and their love for the animals becomes obvious the moment a door to one of the shelter rooms is opened.
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In Room No. 1, where the fire started when an old shelf with a flammable finish was placed too close to a heat vent, about 20 cats went about their business when Sanders entered.
“That’s Simon,” she said, pointing to a tabby that chose a litter box for a napping spot. “He was born here. He’s probably seven years old now.
“That’s Purry right there. He’s the one who jumped out the window in the room after the fire started. We’re still not sure how he did it, but it’s like he broke the window out.
“Louie had lung damage, but he’s found a home.”
The latest struggle is a familiar one, which is simply to keep the shelter open and the animals safe.
“You can’t believe the cat litter we go through in a day,” Sanders said. “Nestle/Purina supplies us with dry food, but we have to buy canned cat and dog food. We have three pitbull puppies in the basement and, when they’re gone, that’ll be our next expense: fixing up the basement.
“We could use help in a few areas. In fact, we’re kind of light on volunteers. They come and go, just like anything else.”