The day already had ended, the setting sun now well below the horizon. With it the last vestiges of light were now gone. Night’s darkness settled upon the world like a blanket, bringing with it bitterly cold temperatures. It was March 30, 1996, and the place was Brooklyn, New York.
At an abandoned garage, derelict and devoid of human inhabitants, Scarlett, a calico cat, tended her litter of five four-week-old kittens. Winter’s last breath fell upon this place and dropped temperatures below freezing. This abandoned building would protect her children as she saw to their needs.
Certainly unaware of how it started, she knew the instant the building caught fire. Flames licked the old structure with heated tongues of fury that cared not for these little kittens or their desperate mother. They would consume everything with dispassion and detachment.
Scarlett knew she must move the litter if her family was to survive, yet the flames moved quickly to consume this once safe home. She could not move them all at once. How could she get her five kittens to safety?
She braved the flames and smoke and falling debris to carry her children, one by one, out of the building. Each trip found the engulfing fire more virulent and persistent. As though challenging her to save her clan, it moved to block her path at every turn. Scarlett would not be deterred.
As the fire raged on, she returned time and again, carrying each kitten to safety as her own body was licked by flames and her own lungs burned by smoke. The fire had reached the kittens. She was running out of time.
With the last kitten held firmly in her mouth, her eyes had already blistered shut and her body was touched by the flames’ insistent attempts to block her path. With fur scorched and paws burned, she did not hesitate. Whatever protection her wounded body could provide was the least she would do.
While the kittens had not escaped the fire unscathed, she arrived outside with the last child, now drawn to the pained and frightened meows of her offspring. No longer able to see them, she gently touched each of them with her nose to ensure none had been missed.
Arriving firemen were drawn to the pitiful meows of the five wounded kittens and their badly burned mother. Although now blinded by her own blisters and suffering horrific burns over all of her body, she was carrying the kittens across the street to get them further away from what had been their home, a home that now threatened to consume them with fiery hunger.
Firefighter David Gianelli, a 17-year veteran at the time, scooped up the entire family and carried them to the safety of an animal shelter.
Weakened by smoke inhalation, one of the kittens died from a viral infection, yet the other four and their mother were cared for and nursed back to health. After recuperating, the selfless Scarlett and her four remaining kittens were adopted by various families who desperately cared to see that her physical sacrifice was not in vain.
“She’s a wonderful, gentle animal who did a courageous thing,” said North Shore Animal League shelter manager Marge Stein. “It shows with all creatures — animals or people — there’s no way of measuring a mother’s love.”
Why is Everybody So Surprised That I Saved My Furry Five?
By Rosemary Asmussen
Why is everyone so surprised
that I saved my furry five;
that in spite of pain and danger
I brought them out alive?
True my eyes were barely open
but I heard their frantic wails;
through smoke and flames I saw
scorched ears and burning tails.
Every trip was a burdened choice
but I could make no other.
The rescuers have called me cat…
but I am also “mother.”
[see Scarlett – Cat of the Century for photos and more information]