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Pet Owners Find Good, Bad News After Fire at Kennel

Times Staff Writer

Margaret Plummer was elated. “Lapo made it!” she exclaimed, reaching into the cage to chuck the Siamese cat under the chin. “She made it! Everybody’s going to be so glad to see you, precious. Yes, they are.”

Plummer was one of dozens of pet owners and friends who showed up at the Pasadena Humane Society on Wednesday, seeking information about 89 dogs and cats that had been boarded at the Town House for Dogs across the street. The 47-year-old kennel was gutted by fire Tuesday.

For Plummer, it was a matter of doing a favor for a neighbor. Lapo’s owner, Linda Moore, was back East on vacation, Plummer said. But Plummer had no trouble spotting Lapo. “See, that’s her scar,” she said, poking at the cat’s back. “See where the fur’s a different color? She was bitten by an animal there.”

And Lapo knew Plummer, rubbing familiarly against the woman’s hand. But for others in the grim procession through the shelter, the news wasn’t good. The fire, which had started in a South Raymond Avenue chemical plant and spread to the two-story kennel next door, killed 36 animals. Police officers and firefighters evacuated 37 dogs and 16 cats.

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Most of the survivors were held at the Humane Society. The dead animals were kept in the organization’s morgue for identification by their owners.

Some owners took the bad news hard Wednesday, sitting on benches in stunned silence or storming angrily out of the animal shelter.

“We were on our way home yesterday when we heard the news on the car radio,” said Caroline Korth, just informed that her 5-year-old part-collie had been lost. “I was devastated. I can’t really talk about it.” She sat despondently in the Humane Society yard, trying to regain her composure.

“I never knew I could be this upset over an animal,” said Marilyn Feldscher, who was inquiring about her older sister’s Lhasa apso, Buffy. Feldscher, the owner of a Pasadena club for teen-agers, said her sister had left the dog at the Town House while she was away for the Fourth of July weekend.

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“My sister’s going to be devastated,” Feldscher said tearfully after she was told the dog had died. “This was her child. That dog got everything under the sun. Every two weeks, he was groomed. He came out with a little bow on. I even used to give him Christmas presents.”

Owner Not Blamed

Few faulted the owners of the kennel, who nervously cruised the shelter, trying to match the surviving animals with records of their owners. Their stucco building across the street, a once cheerful place with cartoons on the walls of dogs playing poker and a sign announcing, “Bow-wow and meow spoken here,” was now a roofless shell, filled with puddles of sooty water.

Dick Diaz, who identified himself as the owner, said he would not reopen the kennel. “I’m 82 years old, and I don’t think I’m going to do it all over again,” he said.

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Kennel director Natalie Schapelle refused to answer questions. “There’s been enough publicity about this thing,” she said. “The dog owners are up in arms.”

But most described Schapelle as a caring kennel operator with an instinctive way with animals. “It never seemed to matter who walked through the door over there,” said Janet Castro, who came to the shelter to identify her neighbors’ Airedale, Brooks. “Natalie always knew the dog’s name, its eating habits, its disabilities. She was incredibly responsible. They weren’t running a mill over there.”

Steven McNall, executive director of the Humane Society, said the Town House has had “a good reputation for years. . . . I have to tell you, we’ve never received a complaint about their facility.”

Pasadena Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Nestor said the cause of the fire, which began in an alley behind the chemical plant, was under investigation. “Any time a fire begins outside of a building, you have to suspect (arson),” he said.

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Bereaved pet owners can call the “Pet Loss Support Hotline,” (916) 752-4200 established by the veterinary program at UC Davis. “I like to let those people know that they don’t have to suffer alone,” said Bonnie Mader, a counselor who is acting director of the program.

Mader said that for some grief over the death of a pet is as great as if it had been a family member. “It’s just as dramatic, the pain is just as deep,” she said.


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