Dog a Hero in California Shelter Fire

BERKELEY, Calif. --

A barking dog awakened its owner as deadly flames neared at a Berkeley animal shelter early Thursday, but as many as 12 cats were not able to escape and perished in the blaze, authorities said

Fire Department fire chief Donna McCracken said units responded to the one-alarm blaze reported at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society in the 2700 block of Ninth Street at around midnight.

When they arrived, they found the building enveloped in heavy smoke.

“The fire started on the first floor and burned through to the second floor,” she said. “There was a lot of smoke and heat damage.”

Firefighters also found Johanna White, who lived in an apartment above the shelter, standing nearby visibly shaken and holding her pit bull/boxer mix named Baby.

“A resident (White) was at home at the time and sleeping with her dog,” McCracken said, “The dog started to whimper and got up. It came back and jumped on her. He sensed there was something going on and woke her up.”

White told KTVU that Baby saved her life.

“I’m so grateful my dog woke me up,” an emotional White told KTVU. "I’m just so, so lucky. I have a good dog. I was not a dog fan either. He’s my husband and daughter’s dog. I may have to reevaluate my stance. He’s definitely a keeper.”

However, several other animals housed in the shelter were not so lucky. A part of the roof collapsed, trapping them in the burning structure.

“I had to make the determination we could not risk ourselves to save the animals,” McCracken said. “We assessed where they were in the building and attempted a shelter in place. Most of them fared very well. But it was a hard decision to make.”

Among the casualties were 12 cats, authorities said.

McCracken said the fire began accidently in the laundry room.

“It started in an unattended dryer,” she said. “We don’t know what ignited the fire. We don’t know if there was lint inside or some kind of electrical failure.”

Three of the displaced cats have been taken in by shelter employees and if you want to help by fostering an animal or making a donation send an email to

BERKELEY: Animal Shelter Devastated By Fire; Dog Helps Save Owner, Some Pets [Jade Hernandez]

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