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.
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.”
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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