Alyssa Hueser may have lost her house in the Fort McMurray wildfire but six months after evacuating, her family is finally back together.
On the day of the evacuation, she raced home to the Waterways neighbourhood from work in a panic.
“I had time to grab my kids, grab the dog and the cats went one way and basically we went the other way and I didn’t have time to chase them,” she said.
As fire raged around her, she was tormented by the decision she had to make.
“What do I do? I can’t just leave them. But my kids were obviously more important than going back for my cats.”
When the family found out their house and much of their neighbourhood burned down, Hueser tried to remain optimistic.
“I just kept hoping that they weren’t there. That they did make an escape to somewhere else and they were smart enough to get away from the fire.”
Once they were safely evacuated, Hueser tried to use social media to find her beloved cats, Ellie and Minnie, to no avail.
“We didn’t hear anything back at all. We had lost hope.”
Then, out of the blue, hope returned.
“Two-and-a-half months after the evacuation, I did get a phone call saying they thought they found Ellie. The cat they found had six kittens with her,” Hueser recalled. “I thought, ‘No way!'”
“I was in denial until they showed up in my driveway and they opened up their truck and there she was. I didn’t have to open the cage or anything, I knew it was her.”
Ellie was in good health, but wouldn’t let any of the volunteers touch her until she saw Hueser.
“I was so happy. I was in the driveway crying and everything.”
Ellie’s kittens were given to families who lost their cats to the wildfire as well.
Hueser decided to keep one for her girls.
“We had lost hope. My kids wanted their two cats back. It was nice to have him so Ellie wasn’t lonely anymore,” she explained.
They named their kitten Pheonix, after one of the companies that helped with water bombing to save Fort McMurray.
Months later, on Halloween, Hueser got a phone call she’ll never forget – a volunteer looking for lost pets said she’d found Minnie, alive.
“I was like, ‘Are you serious? Are you sure?’ Because I couldn’t believe it because it had been a really long time and Minnie was only seven months when she went missing. So I just lost hope.”
It turns out Minnie, like Ellie, had also given birth to a litter of kittens. Minnie was relatively unscathed after spending half a year fending for herself.
“I’m very grateful. I’m happy they’re all home,” Hueser said. “They’re all my babies.”
She has one message to anyone else from Fort McMurray that might still be missing a pet.
“Just never give up hope. Because the worst thing you can do is give up hope. I gave up hope and ended up with another kitten and now I have three cats!”
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