Cloverdale’s Jeff and Shirley Byington lost everything that was important to them when their house caught fire one afternoon last summer.
Eight of their award-winning show cats perished in the blaze.
But thanks to quick-acting strangers – an off-duty RCMP member and a neighbour – one of their cats, a red mackerel tabby named Miloh, and their friendly pet pooch Shiloh – survived.
Half a year later, the couple is still waiting to go back home. Their house wasn’t destroyed by the fire, but suffered plenty of damage, meaning it will still be months before the necessary repairs are complete will make it habitable again.
For the past seven months, they’ve been living in their RV, along with their surviving pets and their few remaining possessions: photos of their beloved lost cats, and a collection of their show ribbons and prizes.
The Byingtons are starting to put the devastation behind them. They’ve found home in their hearts for two new show kittens, a feisty black and white tortoise shell named Cinnamon Spice Latte (“Spice” for short) and a fluffy white and grey Turkish Van called Durust Prens Sevimli, or Prens for short.
Spice, a rescue kitty who was found in an abandoned piggery, was named “Best Kitten” at a show in Ferndale, WA, says Shirley, who’s wearing a T-Shirt memorializing one her favourite cats who perished, Majestik Merlin, a champion who was awarded a posthumous third place prize in an international cat show.
Her husband Jeff wears a T-shirt memorializing another deceased champion kitty, Van City Sakin Mavi Oglan, or “Vashon”, a Turkish Van who is the older brother of one of the Byington’s new kittens.
Next weekend marks the kittens’ debut to the Cat Fanciers of B.C. Cat Show, running March 11 to 13 in the Show Barn at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Miloh, scarred but otherwise mended, will be there too, competing again in the house pet category.
As hard as it was, the Byingtons say they had to return to the world of exhibiting cats.
“We love showing,” he said. “We love show cats.”
Their cats were, and remain, the focus of their lives. Even the clock on the wall has a feline theme: there are cat faces instead of numbers, and it chimes “Meow” at the top of the hour.
Jeff credits the tremendous support from the B.C. Cat Fanciers Association and other cat clubs, which collected donations on their behalf after the fire.
“Everybody’s just been wonderful,” he said.
In addition to their eight beloved pets, the Byingtons also lost close to $30,000 worth of furniture and belongings.
Their house, still being repaired, has been broken into a dozen times since the fire – most recently this past weekend.
It’s as if someone in the area knows they’re not home and is taking advantage of the situation – and have grown so bold the bulbs of their motion-sensitive outdoor lights are broken as fast as they can be replaced.
The white, scrape-like scars on Miloh’s ears will never disappear, but his paws, which suffered first and second-degree burns, are fine, thanks to expert veterinary care here in Cloverdale at Cats at Home and briefly at the Animal Emergency Clinic of the Fraser Valley to help rid him of the poisonous carbon monoxide from the smoke and soot that seared his lungs.
When Miloh recently returned to the house for a brief visit, “he was calling for his buddies,” Jeff says sadly.
Both Miloh and their dog Shiloh are scared of smoke alarms and even the smell of smoke, says Shirley.
As otherwise upbeat as the Byingtons seem on this winter afternoon in late February, adjusting to life after the fire hasn’t been easy.
“We have our moments,” Shirley says simply.
“I do have times and think, I wonder what we could have done differently [that day]. We’re just happy at least Miloh survived.”