In an instant, your whole life can change. No one knows this better than Cassie Howard. Less than a month ago, her Bellevue, Washington, apartment went up in flames when an explosion occurred in the unit directly across from hers. The cause of the explosion is unknown.
Fortunately, Cassie was at work, so she was not injured. She is a personal trainer at Pro Sports Club, a three-minute walk from her home. Only five minutes before the explosion, she had been standing in her living room, which was instantly engulfed in flames. She was lucky to be alive.
The bad news: Her one-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat, Ellie, was still inside her apartment.
"My boss walked over there with me, while the whole time I was hoping that he had made a mistake and that it was a different building on fire," Cassie writes. "When we were close enough to see the building, it was for sure mine. I almost threw up. Every part of my body went numb as I watched helplessly as my life literally went up in flames. I kept pleading with everyone and anyone who would listen to please save my cat. I had this feeling that she was alive and was hiding under my bed."
Cassie stood outside in the rain, refusing to move. She knew Ellie was alive, and she would not leave without her.
Six hours later, a fireman on the scene noticed Cassie’s Pro Club t-shirt. He said he had worked there in the ’90s, and he knew the staff there was like family — "and family helps each other out." He said he would personally go into her apartment and rescue Ellie.
Only moments after climbing through Cassie’s bedroom window, the fireman emerged holding Ellie. Cassie was right — the cat had been hiding under the bed the whole time.
"When Ellie was rescued, it was the best moment of my life," Cassie says. "All I wanted was Ellie. I did not even mourn over the thought of my life going up in flames. The only thing that mattered was Ellie, and I still feel that way."
Ellie was safe but not unscathed. She had numerous health issues. The smoke had turned the cat’s white fur dark gray. She was rushed to the vet for oxygen treatments — after six hours in the smoldering apartment, Ellie had smoke inhalation and burns on her right lung. She also had thermal burns on her left front leg, belly, paws, neck, tail, and left side flank. The burns on her left front leg were so severe that she had some of her flexor muscles removed. She will also require skin grafts.
Despite the pain Ellie has endured, Cassie says her cat is "one tough cookie."
"She is the sweetest little girl in the world," Cassie says. "Her personality has not changed, and she is still so loving and cuddly. She follows me around from room to room, just wanting to be held and loved. It is hard to cuddle her since she has the burns everywhere and I don’t want to hurt her by touching them, but we have made it work."
As the vet bills from Ellie’s many medical life-saving medical procedures add up, Cassie has sought assistance from an online fundraiser via YouCaring.com. Click here to donate to Ellie’s care, and click here to follow her progress on Facebook. The fundraiser has received tremendous support, with the $15,000 goal nearly in reach.
"Her medical bills are piling up like crazy," Cassie says. "We are hoping to raise enough to cover them. She’s got a rough couple of months ahead of her until she fully recovers."
As Cassie starts her life over from scratch, she’s looking at the challenge from a perspective of gratitude. In that way, her attitude is much like Ellie’s — she is tenacious, optimistic, and strong. And she knows that she still has what matters most: The loving companionship of her feline friend.
"The way I look at it, I have two choices at this point in my life," Cassie says. "I can either be bitter and place blame or I can accept that I have lost all of my things and move forward. I do not intend to spend time and energy thinking ‘what if.’ My main focus is helping Ellie get through this, and I feel so blessed to have her in my arms. She is the one thing I can never replace."
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