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Bringing about reunions

“Puffers,” Karen Colbert’s beloved striped tabby, has had a way since she was a kitten of grabbing the fingers of anyone who would rub the bottoms of her paws.

Colbert, a former Bear Lake Estates resident, thought she’d never see the eight-year-old cat again, much less feel the familiar “hold” after evacuating just moments before her home was destroyed September 8 by the Almeda fire.

But in an unexpected twist of fate, six months to the day she last saw her cats, Puffers and Kizzy, Colbert was reunited this week with Puffers at her temporary home Jackson County Expo RV Park. Colbert said she was shocked when a good Samaritan reached out in response to an online “lost” report she posted after the fire.

“We actually got a dog and a cat out with us, but we didn’t have much time. I was standing there taking a picture of the fire thinking, ‘Wow, that seems close.’ Suddenly the flames were in my yard,” Colbert recalled of the September 8 fire that would destroy over 2,600 homes.

“Puffers was a big fluff ball when she was little, that’s where she got her name. We lost her mother, too. They were inside/outside cats, but they never left the perimeter of our yard before the fire.”

Colbert suspects recent cleanup efforts in the vicinity of Bear Lake Estates “stirred up” cats who had hunkered down in burned out neighborhoods since the fire. More surprising than finding one of her missing cats, Colbert said, was the kindness of those who have tended to lost and stray cats since the flames died down.

Klamath Falls resident Caylen Kelsey has been working with local pet rescuers Medford resident Angela Carson and Phoenix resident Rachelle Long. The group has been working with community members to feed, trap and identify cats in the burned areas of Phoenix and Talent.

“She found Puffers at a burned mobile park next to ours. I was surprised to find out she lives in Klamath and has been driving back and forth to try and reunite these cats with their owners,” Colbert said.

Kelsey said she “hit the ground running” after the Almeda and Obenchain fires last year.

“At the time of the Camp fire I had two of my own cats who were very sick and had passed away. I was looking for another cat and started looking into where I could make the biggest impact by adopting. That was when I became aware, after fires and natural disasters, there are hundreds and hundreds of displaced animals,” she said.

“I started doing what’s called ‘matching,’ which is checking various Facebook posts for lost and found pets that seem like the same animal. Social media at its finest, right? Using it for good.”

Long, who works with Carson to replenish feeding stations, said it’s surreal to know that displaced animals are still waiting for owners to return.

“We’ve been doing this since September 10, walking up to 10 miles a day, going to places trying to rescue cats and feed the ones we can’t get to or the ones we don’t have a place for yet,” Long said, adding that she and Carson primarily upkeep feeding stations and address medical issues. Trapping or picking up animals is done methodically – when a cat has been identified or a local shelter or rescue has available space.

“The biggest issue is not having a place for the cats to go, so we’ll wait for people to identify a picture of a cat we’ve posted and then tell, or the shelter will tell us, ‘Ok, we have this many slots for ferals so go ahead and catch that many!’”

Long and Kelsey reported three reunions in the past week, including Puffers.

“It’s a half a year later and there are still so many out there. In a particular park where I trapped recently, there are still 13 cats that are not under the care of anybody living in the park. And that’s just one park out of dozens,” said Kelsey.

“There were a lot of displaced pets but also lots of community cats and ferals before the fire. They might have been cats that lived outside or weren’t tame, but they were cared for by a neighborhood. We’ve had a lot of posters who will put up photos or descriptions because they want to know if those animals survived. It’s easy to think, ‘It’s just a cat,’ but for these fire survivors, even a neighborhood stray, that’s something they cared for, and a small piece of their life from before the fire.”

Kelsey said she’s committed to helping the displaced cats until she’s found solutions for them all.

“I live in Klamath Falls and it’s a stinker of a drive – I put 650 miles on my car in two weeks – but I can’t stop what I’m doing until I now that they’re all okay,” Kelsey added.

Colbert said she never imagined she’d get her Puffers back.

“I was afraid to hope that she was coming back to me. Even when Karen reached out, I thought, ‘It’s probably not her.’ But as soon as I saw her, I petted her and she curled her toes around my finger,” Colbert said.

“This whole thing has given me so much more hope than I had before, about a lot of things.”

To donate to Long and Carson’s feeding and trapping efforts, send an e-mail, or via Paypal, rachelles70@yahoo.com.

Donate to the Almeda Fire Cat Rescue & Reunification Efforts at https://www.gofundme.com/f/almeda-fire-cat-rescue-efforts?fbclid=IwAR02HUEe-Q5FEKp3rVaFvBpV7a_Lr3RMsAnTdjX9j-WvES3FGNaUxqDoqbs.

Donations of disposable plats or dry or canned food can be dropped off at the Gentleman’s Den, 820 Crater Lake Avenue, suite 108.

Online, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1207768899597028.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Karen Colbert shares a moment with her cat at her temporary home at the Expo Center RV Park on Friday. Colbert was reunited with her cat Puffers 6 months after she went missing during the Almeda Fire in Phoenix.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Rachelle Long, left, and Angela Carson, put out food for missing and feral cats in the Phoenix burn zone near Debbie Dinner on Thursday.