ORLANDO, Fla. — As rescuers worked through the night and morning to save as many cats and dogs as possible from the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando fire, one firefighter found love.
Feline love, that is.
Orange County firefighter Brett Maneri was one of dozens of first responders to rush toward the burning building to contain the flames and hurry cats and dogs away from the structure.
Initially, rescuers feared all but 10 cats perished. As it became safe to enter the facility, they realized many other cats found hiding spots and were still alive.
Maneri personally pulled several from the rubble.
“We picked out three this morning,” he recalled. “One pregnant one, Mia, and another one.”
It was Mia, a brown and orange marbled Tabby, that caught his attention. He said they found her hiding behind a cat condo.
“We picked her up, and after that it was just it,” he recalled. “She was a lover, I could tell she was so scared and timid… [I] kind of just fell in love with her.”
Upon asking, he found out that she was taken to the organization’s Sanford location along with the other rescues. He drove over the minute he clocked out Thursday to sign the adoption papers.
For her part, Mia looked slightly dazed and confused. Tired, no doubt, by the long night and taking in the strange faces surrounding her.
“I came straight here, and now she’s coming home with me,” Maneri said, smiling. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime fire. It breaks our heart driving up to the scene and knowing what it is… our whole goal was to search every corner to find at least one.”
As of Thursday night, Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando officials said 45 cats and 26 dogs had been rescued while 13 cats had died and four were still missing.
The organization declared the building a total loss. Leaders have been asking for donations of towels and blankets, wet cat food or cash while they care for the survivors.