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Humane mission comes to sad end

A house fire kills a Tampa woman who took in stray animals and more than 30 of those in her care. About 10 animals survived.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 17, 2002


TAMPA -- Neighbors said the woman devoted her life to animals.

In a modest Tampa Heights home, she and her housemate cared for dozens of stray dogs and cats until they could find them new homes.

But on Saturday, their quiet work ended tragically.

The woman, 46, was killed in a late morning fire, as were most of the more than 40 animals.

"She cared more about animals than anything," said next-door neighbor Scott Weichmann. "Obviously, she was very kindhearted."

Authorities did not release the name of the woman, pending notification of next of kin.

"I just lost a life partner," said her housemate, Bonnie Bush.

Firefighters arrived at the Arlington Avenue home three minutes after being called at 11:51 a.m., said Capt. Bill Wade, spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue.

When crews kicked in the front door, several cats bolted. The firefighters found the woman unconscious and pulled her outside, but it was too late.

Some of the pets fared better.

Firefighters revived several animals in the front yard, said Mike Semento, who watched from across the street. "They put a little mask on them," he said.

Four cats, three dogs and a rabbit survived. Twenty-five cats, five dogs, eight birds and a ferret did not.

Wade said the fire started in the kitchen. The cause is under investigation, but foul play is not suspected.

Bush was not at home when the fire began. She returned to find police cars and firetrucks lining the street, and animal control officers carrying cages with the surviving animals.

The animals were taken immediately to a veterinarian for treatment.

Animal services will hold them until Monday, when Bush is expected to claim them.

Tom Green, field supervisor for Hillsborough County Animal Services, said there was no indication Saturday of any complaints or problems with the handling of the animals. There are no limits on the number of pets people can have "if they are taking care of them adequately," he said.

Residents said the victim was also actively involved in neighborhood issues.

Just last week, she and Bush were among those who helped form a new neighborhood group that split from the Tampa Heights organization, said neighbor Weichmann.

"They kept an eye on other people's property when (other people) weren't home," said Tami LaLande, another neighbor. "Just good people."

-- John Balz contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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