The wildfires raging in California are leaving a number of residents out of house and home. Sadly, many of them are returning to where they once lived and finding nothing but rubble. Even worse, many of them are being forced to part ways with their family pets who scamper away to escape the flames.
There’s been a surge in the homeless cat population since the outbreak of the fires in recent months. For kitties with an acute sense of self-preservation, they’re often out the door before their owners can corral them and transport them to safety.
Thomas the cat was among them—and as the fire raged through their Santa Rosa, California neighborhood in October, his family believed that he had perished. They even found a cat’s body in the rubble of their former home that looked just like their cat.
Lea and Dani Stockham decided to hold a funeral for their beloved cat Thomas.
The 15-year-old daughter of the family, Lea, was particularly devastated. She’d owned Thomas since she was two years old and he was only a kitten.
“It was really devastating when I couldn’t grab him. He started clawing at me and slipped out of my arms,” she told CBS.
Little did they know that Thomas had survived the fire on his own and was roaming the cindered landscape only a quarter mile away. Just as they were grieving and preparing to put their lives back together, Thomas was captured by the man who would prove to be his savior.
As Thomas the cat prowled and scavenged for food, Shannon Jay prowled after him.
Shannon Jay was supposed to be recovering from surgery. The police officer was on leave after doctors removed a benign brain tumor and told him he needed to rest. Instead, for weeks, Jay had gone out at three o’clock in the morning to set traps for stray cats.
Jay devoted himself to the work after his own cat ran off a year prior.
“I was completely beside myself,” Jay told The Press Democrat. A cat lover, he says he’s managed to trap 14 cats so far. Reuniting them with their families is the ultimate payoff for his late-night labor of love.
“The idea that they’re out there and people are grieving and lost everything … to just bring that little beacon back to them, to just see how happy they are, its overwhelming,” Jay told KTVU reporters.
Once Shannon Jay trapped Thomas, he took the cat to the vet. A microchip provided his owners’ contact information.
“When my parents said we got the email, I started crying because I was like, ‘No way. This can’t be happening,'” Lea said.
But it was true. She was reunited with Thomas and said it was “the best day I’ve had since the fire.”
“Thank god for the microchip. It’s such a simple thing,” said Dani Stockham, Lea’s mother.
Otherwise, they likely never would have known Thomas survived the blaze and was wandering the streets alone. But thanks to Shannon Jay, a microchip, and a healthy portion of luck, Thomas is still alive and back with his loving family.