Bronx Fire Victims Reunited with Their Precious “Puma”

March 23, 2022

The ASPCA’s Luisa Germain with Dana and Puma, and Dana’s niece, Talia.

On Saturday, January 8, Dana C.’s 14-year-old son, Judge, had invited eight of his friends to the family’s Bronx apartment to celebrate his birthday and spend the night. Four of Judge’s teenage siblings and a cousin were also there, as was the family’s five-year-old, black-and-white cat, Puma.

The following morning, just before 11 A.M., smoke alarms sounded in their building. When the children smelled smoke, they phoned Dana at work, who told them to evacuate. The teens broke a window so they could jump to safety.

Marqui, Dana’s eldest son, used a mattress to safely catch the nine who jumped. Firefighters rescued the other three, and later traced the fire’s cause to a faulty space heater in a third-floor apartment.

But Puma, whom everyone had frantically tried to find before leaping to safety, was missing.

Looking for Puma

The evening of the fire, at the request of NYC Emergency Management, the ASPCA Community Engagement team sent three staff members with supply kits to a resource center at a school located across the street from Dana’s building.

While there, Colleen Doherty, Senior Director of Community Engagement, and Jessica Sweeney, Senior Program Manager, were approached by Dana and two other families reporting lost pets.

Left: Zina Robbins-Maldonado, Community Engagement Coordinator, at the resource center; right, fliers were posted by the ASPCA.

Jessica took Dana’s information and asked where Puma might be hiding so responders could look for her. The ASPCA helped Dana file a lost pet report with Animal Care Centers of NYC and created and posted fliers within a four-block radius of the building. Information was also posted on two local Facebook groups for lost and found pets.

Thirteen ASPCA staff members rotated shifts at the resource center until January 21. During that time, over 80 pets received supplies, and 12 were scheduled for veterinary appointments—primarily for smoke inhalation—at the ASPCA Animal Hospital and partner clinics.

But despite multiple efforts to locate Puma, she was nowhere to be found.

Found, Then Lost

According to local news reports, the fire at 333 East 181st Street was the most lethal in New York City in three decades. Seventeen people died of smoke inhalation, including eight children; 44 were injured. The story made national news.

“Some of my neighbors didn’t survive,” Dana says. “Others lost their pets.”

Everything in Dana’s apartment was destroyed.

“We made it out only with what we were wearing that morning,” she says.

On January 26, Dana was escorted back to her apartment for a quick visit and was elated to discover a nervous Puma hiding under a blanket on her bed. She had sustained herself by ripping open a bag of dry cat food.

But when firefighters showed up in the room to check on Dana, Puma dashed away.

“We were forced to leave her behind again,” says Dana, who made sure Puma had access to food and water before she left.

A Family Reunited

On February 22, Luisa Germain, Community Cats Manager, and Kerrin Williams, Placement and Transport Coordinator, set a humane trap in the hallway of Dana’s apartment and baited it with sardines in olive oil. They notified a security guard who heard the trap spring 20 minutes later. 

Left: The humane trap set to catch Puma; right, Luisa Germain, Community Cats Manager, with Puma on the way to be reunited with her family.

“Dana was already on her way to the apartment to retrieve Puma, so she kept Puma in the trap, covered with a towel until they were indoors in a safe spot,” explains Luisa.

“Once Puma was nice and warm and had her family around her, she was back to her old self,” says Dana.

The family of seven—including Dana’s niece, Talia—are currently living in a hotel while Dana, who works for the New York City Parks Department, looks for a new apartment.

“Puma means everything to us,” Dana adds. “She’s a real trooper, to survive a month in that apartment. She’s not just a pet—she’s family. She’s our baby.”

The ASPCA made arrangements to have Puma seen by Paisley Manga, Grooming Specialist, for cleaning that included a nail trim.

ASPCA Grooming Specialist, Paisley Manga, gives Puma a spa day that includes a nail trim.

Having Puma back is one of the few bright spots in what Dana describes as a nightmare.

“It was the most horrific thing we’ve ever been through, and the devastation is going to linger for a long, long time,” Dana says. “But I’m grateful we have Puma and are able to rebuild our lives.”