Experience: my cat saved me from a fire

A firefighter emerged with Tink draped over his arm. I presumed she was dead. He set an oxygen mask on her and incredibly, she took a breath and coughed

Early one morning last February, I felt the thud of my cat Tinks paws as she landed on my legs. I was fast asleep and she woke me up, which had never happened before. It was entirely uncharacteristic: she sleeps downstairs and never comes into the bedroom.

I sat up impression groggy because Id been out the night before, but I soon realised something was very wrong. The room was half-filled with a layer of white smoking, eerie and alarming, hanging in the air about three feet deep like a bank of white cloud.

I woke up my partner, Russ, in a panic and we jumped out of bed. As we waded through the thick smoke, I was still trying to process exactly what was going on, and the hazard only really hit me when I went out on to the landing.

Our son Jake, 19, had woken up, too, and as he opened two brothers Scotts door, black smoking billowed out. The smoke from Scotts room curled up to the ceiling; it was only then that the smoke alarm was triggered. Scott, 22, emerged, hollering above the racket that he was struggling to breathe. I phoned the fire brigade, who told us to leave the house as quickly as we could.

It was a massive wrench, leaving all of our belongings behind, but we knew we had no choice. We assumed Tink had slipped out of the house, too.

Within minutes, six fire engines arrived. As I stood blearily in the road, I looked at our house and realised that the source of the fire was actually our next-door neighbours flames were licking the front of her home. She had also managed to get out and was subsequently taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. I dreaded to think what was happening in our home as the smoke poured out of the windows. I couldnt bear to look.

For half an hour, our two homes were drenched with water until the firefighters were satisfied that the flame was out. By now, however, our assumption that Tink was safe began to falter. We presumed she had managed to escape, but there was no sign of her. Russ told a firefighter and, even though he wasnt meant to, he went back into our house to look for her.

After a few moments he emerged with Tink, totally limp and draped over his arm. She wasnt breathing and her tongue was hanging out. He had procured her behind a closet in Jakes room. We assumed she was dead, and I felt heartbroken; she had saved us but died in the process. Then the firefighter set an oxygen mask on her and unbelievably she took a breath and coughed. She was alive. Groggy and stink of smoke, but alive. She had an anti-inflammatory injection at the vets later that day and was lively enough to show her displeasure at having the soot cleaned from her fur.

As our house was drenched and smoke-damaged, we had nowhere to live, so Tink went to my daughter Lesleys while we stayed in a hotel for a month. It took weeks to recover from the trauma of what had happened. One corner of our home had been burnt and all our belongings were ruined. I was especially devastated to lose all my photographs and couldnt bear to open a closet to see what was salvageable. It all felt dreadful, but at the least we were alive.

When we went to visit my daughter, it was clear that Tink had been traumatised, too. She was clingy and timid, refusing to leave my lap when I tried to get up. We have moved into rented accommodation while our house is renovated and Tink has finally come back to us.

The source of the fire was electrical forensics are gauging exactly what and the smoke had oozed through the ventilates between our terraced houses. The firefighters told us we would have had six minutes to get out before we died in the fire, so Tinks sixth sense saved us. She could have deserted us, but she came up to the most dangerous smoke-filled region to advise us. Generally cats arent known for their altruism, but she is the exception.

As tell to Emily Cunningham.

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