We were busy setting up for our weekly family dinner when the Farmer grumbled, “Tell me again why we have three cats in the basement?!”
“Lots of people have indoor cats.”
“Yes but they never even come upstairs!”
Actually, they do, but it’s usually when the house is quiet and they can be assured that the dog is in his crate, sleeping. They don’t trust that puppy with all of his licking, jumping and pawing.
They have met him – I often bring him downstairs so they can sniff his nose. But after a few moments of polite introduction, he can’t help himself. He has to jump on the cats. And so they remain in the basement, behind their barricade.
The cats have a storage room where they can perch on furniture and stacks of boxes covered in old sheets and blankets. I have left the window open a crack for fresh air. That must be where they first smelled the smoke.
We’d been in bed several hours when I was awakened by the sound of cats running up and down the hallway and meowing outside our bedroom door. They often do this in the middle of the night when their food bowl is empty. I heard one jumping off the table downstairs with a loud thud. He was no doubt checking to see if Sunday dinner had been all cleaned up or if there were still some crumbs for him.
I pulled on my robe and stomped downstairs to put the noisy beasts back in the basement.
Before rounding up the trio of cats, I decided to use the bathroom. When I emerged, Sammy – the ring leader – was sitting there with a wild look in his eyes. He actually looked past me, to the front door of the house. I turned and saw lights flickering outside.
Immediately I thought the barn was on fire – every farmer’s nightmare. I rushed to the back of the house where the dog was sleeping but saw nothing at the barn.
The fire was outside the front door of the house. A quick peek out the window confirmed flames were licking up through the porch slats.
I took the stairs two at a time, scattering cats in all directions as I ran to wake the Farmer.
He dressed and ran outside to stretch the garden hose around the house to put out the flames.
I woke our Norwegian student Mina from a deep slumber and called 9-1-1 at the same time.
I was just putting our girl safely out in the truck with a blanket and some tea when the first volunteer firefighters arrived.
Fergus, on his leash beside me, was totally silent throughout the episode – even when three more pickups and two firetrucks arrived, lights flashing. He who barks at small children playing and roosters learning to crow was not at all excited by fire on the front porch. Or maybe he was in shock like the rest of us. I think Mina lost her English for an hour or so – the whole experience was a bit numbing.
The garden hose had already done the trick on the fire but the firefighters helped to tear down the porch and douse any smouldering areas to get rid of hot spots. They also checked the house for damage and agreed that the smell of smoke was strongest in the basement.
Our smoke alarms went off during dinner preparations so we know they work – but they didn’t go off for this fire as it was outdoors. Thank goodness our cat alarms went off.
My husband built our home during the ice storm of 1998 so it isn’t ancient. But it is trimmed in wood that would have easily lit up if the flames had had five more minutes to reach it. That’s what we were all imagining two hours later, after the firefighters had left. We sat silently in the living room, tea in hand, waiting for the adrenalin to leak out of our veins so we could return to sleep.
“Well, I guess your lazy cats have redeemed themselves,” the Farmer announced.
Sammy, Sheila and Junior may live in the basement and prefer to remain out of sight, but just as they did when our basement flooded, they knew when to alert us to an emergency.
Even if it was mainly to save their own furry butts.
Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.