Fire destroys animal shelter; Pit bull puppy a hero


The midnight fire at the animal shelter took its toll not only on the burning building, but it also killed a dozen cats inside.

"This is such a devastating loss not only for the cats' lives, but for our work, for all the hard work that we put in," said Berkeley Humane Society worker Katherine O'Donnell. "I mean we save about at least 800 animals each year."

O'Donnell shed tears as she walked through the remains of the facility. Outside, firefighters had dragged debris, leaving behind charred shells of laundry appliances.

"It was probably a dryer, but the cause is really unknown at the time," she saidl.

But what is well known is that in a strange twist of fate, a pit bull named Baby that lived in a now-burned apartment above, ended up saving more lives when it became agitated by the smoke.

Johanna White was sound asleep when her pit bull sprang into action.

"She came in, jumped on me in bed, wacked me in the face with her paw, and licked my face until I got up," said White. "And then when I sat up I smelled smoke."

Firefighters told White that in just four more minutes she might not have made it out alive.

So thankfully Baby brought it to her attention and really nudged her and got her awake and outside and definitely saved her life," said O'Donnell.

The lives of 14 dogs were also saved, but now they're homeless again until the facility can be re-built.

The city of Berkeley's Animal Care Services has pitched in to take the dogs for medical examinations, and others in the community are also stepping in to help foster them, like veterinarian Dr. Alan Shriro.

"I just called my hospital, which is Berkeley Dog & Cat, and I arranged to have some of the dogs taken there," said Shriro.

The non-profit humane society, usually a haven to help others, is now relying heavily on community support, from monetary donations to foster care for the animals and volunteers, both seasoned and new.

"Today was going to be the first day and we were really looking forward to it, and we're really sad now," said Katie Elmore of Albany.

Monetary donations can be given online by visiting and clicking on the "donate" tab, or mailed to BEBHS, 2700 Ninth St., Berkeley, CA 94710.

Foster homes are being sought for many of the animals retrieved from the shelter. People who have space to temporarily house a dog or cat are asked to send an e-mail to

Humane society officials are also looking for volunteers to help clean up and repair the shelter and care for the remaining animals. People interested in volunteering can send an e-mail to

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