Cat That Got Lost in Chaos of Wildfire Finally Found 102 Days Later

Combined Shape

When the Camp Fire made its way to Paul and Sandra Ritchie’s house in Paradise, California, they started scrambling for their four cats. They found three of them, but one, Dexter, was missing.

With their house catching on fire and them needing to get out fast, the Ritchies were forced to leave, still not knowing where Dexter was.

“We had like five minutes to get out of the house,” the Ritchies told KOVR. They managed to get to safety with their three cats, but poor Dexter was still locked in the house, and the house caught on fire.

“I myself had horrible thoughts about him burning up in the fire,” Paul said.

Like any pet owners, they thought of their lost cat often, and though they hoped for the best, they had a hard time imagining that he could have made it. Deciding to start over in Missouri, the Ritchies moved, thinking they closed a chapter in California.

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Over 100 days after the fire took their California home, the Ritchies got a call from the FieldHaven Feline Center. They told Paul that they had Dexter.

“I said what? It was pretty emotional,” Paul admitted. Somehow, their black cat had survived the fire and stayed in the area where their house used to be, and was eventually trapped by an organization working to recover cats displaced by the fire.

“We called them almost immediately, giving them the good news, and they were astounded that he survived,” the president of the feline center, Joy Smith, said during an interview with KXTV.

“Dexter was trapped 1.1 miles from his burned down home in Paradise 102 days after the fire,” the center wrote on Feb. 20. “Thanks to his Miracle Microchip we were able to track down his family who is now living in Missouri.”

“His 3 kitty siblings, including his littermate, Clayton were able to leave with their parents but they couldn’t find Dexter. Because the house was closed they assumed he had perished. But Dexter somehow escaped his burning house.”

His owners were very much looking forward to the reunion, which took place on March 8. Leslie Berard-Zaletel, who originally fed and trapped Dexter, boarded a plane and headed to Missouri to take him home.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Sandra said. “I think I’m going to just stand there and cry and want to hug him.”

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Smith also wants to encourage other families who haven’t yet located their pets who went missing in the fire zone.

“Reach out to us, or to any groups, because there are still hundreds of cats being found in the fire zone,” she said. “All of them deserve to be reunited with their families.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking