OSHAWA - Grief-stricken staff and volunteers comforted each other today as they stood stunned staring at what is left of the Durham Humane Society after a massive early morning blaze swept the animal shelter killing as many as 140 cats and 3 dogs.
The fire erupted around 2:15 a.m. and by the time fire crews arrived soon after the building on Waterloo St., just east of Ritson Rd. S., was fully engulfed in flames.
Firefighters and police officers worked feverishly to rescue the many animals trapped inside, but sadly they were only able to save, nine dogs, two cats and a rat.
"They were able to stop the fire from spreading to the adjoining units," Susan King, Chief Fire Prevention Officer, said at the scene.
Staff and volunteers sobbed as they stared at the devestating effects of the fire.
"We're all still in shock," said the shelter's manager Ruby Richards. "We really haven't come to terms yet with the fact that these animals we worked with day in and day out, and treated like our own pets, are now gone."
She said the vet told her the animals died from smoke inhalation, "so they likely went peacefully."
"We have to hold onto that because if we thought anything else, I don't think we'd be able to cope," Richards said, a tear streaming down her cheek.
The animals trapped inside the shelter, for the most part, were pets that had been given up by their owners and were awaiting adoption.
"I'm just sick to my stomach at the thought of what those poor animals went through," said Darren Czob, 37, who volunteered at the shelter until a couple of months ago.
"They were all in cages, so there was nowhere for them to go, no (way to) escape," he added.
The rescued animals were initially kept warm in Durham police cruisers and then later taken to a nearby animal hospital, where they are being treated for their injuries.
The shelter has also been badly burned by the fire. The damage is pegged at about $250,000.
Humane Society staff are trying to find homes for the surviving animals and a trust fund will be set up to help re-build the shelter. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshal's office.