On June 1, catastrophically destructive tornadoes swept through parts of western Massachusetts. Among the victims were Michael Roescher of Monson, Mass., and his seven cats; the storm leveled his home while they were all inside.
Roescher survived and made his way outside to view the apocalyptic landscape. He immediately began searching through the rubble for his cats.
He posted a sign on the land where his rented home used to stand. The board contained photos and names of the seven cats, and when each cat was found, Roescher noted that information on the cat’s picture.
For days Roescher camped under the stars, amid the remains of his home, so he could look for the felines during the night. Some were dug out of the rubble and some had to be lured with tasty treats.
The first to emerge was Felix, two days after the tornado, and Plumley was found later the same day. Both cats were dug out from under the rubble.
Over the next two days, two cats belonging to Roescher’s stepdaughter Kelly McClure were also rescued. Samson was pulled out from the debris, and the day after that, Franky ran to McClure and curled up in her arms.
On June 5, Roescher found Cujetta, a stray he had recently rescued in nearby Worcester, stuck in a wall. A few days later, some young women from another area town found Cosette in the rubble and returned her to Roescher.
But Rocky, a huge ginger cat, was still among the missing.
“He was fast, like a panther on the roll,” Roescher said.
Finally, on Sunday at 4:30 a.m., Rocky came out from hiding.
When Rocky saw Roescher, he rolled over on his back to greet his relieved owner.
Now, Roescher and McClure are putting their lives back together.
“Not having renter’s insurance, everything I’ve accumulated up to the age of 48 was destroyed. I thought, ‘No way the cats could have survived,'” Roescher said.
But Roescher and McClure started to have a flicker of hope when they found their old, blind goldfish Silver, still alive in the wreckage, in two inches of water.
“Once we found the goldfish alive, we started digging for the cats,” Roescher said.
“They were the only thing that has mattered from the beginning,” McClure said. “We didn’t care about the stuff.”
Roescher set up humane traps baited with tuna fish and searched for the cats at night because he figured they’d hide during the day. Teams of volunteers assisted him, telling him when they heard meows in the rubble. Even Monson Fire Chief George Robichaud kicked in — he freed one of the cats one night, but it ran off.
Now, Franky and Cujetta are temporarily living at Second Chance Animal Shelter in East Brookfield, Samson is living with McClure in nearby Brimfield; and Felix, Plumley, Cosette and Rocky, along with Silver the fish, are staying with Roescher in Worcester.
Roescher, a master electrician who builds commercial fire alarm systems, plans to come back to Monson once he can find a home that can accommodate the family and their eight pets.
The cats give him “unconditional love,”he said, and only ask to be fed.
All the cats are in good shape, with surprisingly few injuries considering the catastrophe that unfolded around them three weeks ago.
“I’m thrilled to death,” Roescher said. “Beyond belief, I am shocked . . . How did they survive?”