Last week, City Kitties trapped two cats missing from the Windermere Court Apartments. More than three weeks after a massive fire gutted the building at 48th and Walnut Streets, M2 and Missy were found alive and well.
These pampered house pets survived eight hours of smoke and flames, more than 24 hours of cold water sprayed throughout the building, a basement submerged under 15 feet of water, weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, high winds, and snow storms.
Both M2 and Missy emerged from the building still wearing collars, still chubby from their years as house cats, and thrilled to get attention from a human again. At The Cat Doctor, both cats received exams and blood work; the vet gave them the all-clear to be returned to their owners. As you can see in their photos, they are happy and perfectly healthy. Today, one of these kitties is on her way to Virginia to be reunited with her mom, who has been patiently waiting to see her beloved cat again. The other lucky feline is staying in a City Kitties foster home until her mom can find a new apartment. Now that she knows her cat is safe, she says her family feels whole again.
Windermere tenants’ pets aren’t the only animals who survived in the hulking abandoned building. A young stray wandered into our humane trap too; she likely saw the apartment complex as a safe, dry alternative to the ice and snow outside. Cinder wasn’t owned by anyone recently — she is underweight and missing patches of fur from flea dermatitis — but she managed to survive alongside Missy and M2.
Less than one week after the fire, seasoned fire fighters and emergency personnel told tenants and City Kitties volunteers that survival inside the Windermere was unlikely, if not impossible. The various officials we spoke to weren’t able to identify anyone who could set humane traps in areas of the building that escaped the flames and the worst of the smoke. And anyway, they said, there were no signs of life in the building. With live plants visible and clean, dry curtains still hanging in the windows on the east end of the building, all we could do was search for someone willing to set humane traps inside.
Meanwhile, these cats were foraging for food in abandoned apartments, drinking toxic water out of puddles and toilets, slinking through dark hallways, leaving paw prints and piles of feces in the dust and snow. Terrified by their ordeal, they hid when strangers in scary fire fighter suits and hats patrolled the building with flashlights. As food ran out and emergency personnel left, some cats likely fled the building through open doors and broken windows. Whether they will be found — or identified and reunited with their owners — is anyone’s guess.
Those of us who have rescued cats from unthinkable conditions knew there could be survivors. We aren’t surprised by M2 and Missy’s resilience, nor would we be surprised to find more Windermere pets in the neighborhood in the coming weeks and months. Instead, we are shocked by the total absence of animal rescue protocol in the wake of this disaster.
Fire fighters heroically rescued at least six cats the day after the fire, and gave closure to several other owners whose cats didn’t make it out alive. We can’t thank them enough for that. But as M2 and Missy (and now Annie) prove, those rescue efforts should not have ended on Tuesday, January 11th.
Had someone with official access to the building — fire fighters, the fire marshal, the building owners, Licenses & Inspections, the Office of Emergency Management — agreed to set humane traps inside the building even a week after the fire, we believe that more cats could have been rescued. Every day that went by was a lost opportunity, and by all accounts, that brief window of opportunity has literally closed. The building is sealed and padlocked, and all of the first and second floor windows are shut.
Just this morning, someone spotted a cat matching Sadie’s (M2′s sister) description in a second floor window, still wearing her pink collar. It is urgent that the city, the owners, or other parties involved allow humane traps back into the building immediately so that these missing pets can be saved.
The cats who lived in the Windermere, and the people who would do anything to get them back, deserve better. Philadelphians and their pets who survive future emergencies deserve better.
With that in mind, City Kitties has been gathering information from residents and pet owners who experienced first-hand the chaos and lack of communication following this disaster. We will do our best to ensure that this critical information reaches the right people, so that this never happens again in Philadelphia – so that no animal needlessly suffers in a freezing, burned out building because nobody knew who was in charge or whom to call.
What can you do to help?
1. You can make a donation towards veterinary bills and other care for surviving Windermere cats. Donations from the public have helped City Kitties fund comprehensive veterinary care and boarding for six cats thus far. Ember, Ash, Cinder, and three owned kitties needed help, and thanks to generous donors from Philadelphia and far beyond, they received it.
2. If you live in the area directly around the Windermere, you can continue looking for cats matching the description of those still missing.
3. You can support the Windermere tenants by making a donation to the Walnut Hill Community Association’s fund for victims of the fire. Tenants are planning a demonstration outside the building for this coming Saturday, February 12th to raise awareness of the lack of communication and support from the building owners, city officials, and aid workers following the fire. If we receive additional details about this event, we will share it on our Facebook page.
4. And finally, you can share this post using the icons directly below and email it to anyone you know who cares about the welfare of these pets who cannot help themselves.