JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A family is sorting through the rubble of what’s left of their Northside home and mourning the deaths of nearly 20 cats after a fire broke out Saturday morning.
Homeowner Kurt Lessenthein said, from the outside, the damage to his home doesn’t seem like much, but the damage inside is far greater. The fire killed 18 of his 35 cats and one is still missing. The pain of the loss, Lessenthein said, is just too much to take.
Lessenthein, who is the adoption coordinator for the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, said the surviving cats are the silver lining to the nightmare he’s trying to wake up from.
“We were on our way back out to our car when we got the call from our neighbor saying our house was on fire,” Lessenthein told First Coast News.
Lessenthein said he was out picking up cat food when he got the call.
“The worst part is when [first responders] start bringing out your pets and I had a lot of cats," he said. "We were rescuing them. "We were starting to get them adopted through [the nonprofit] Cats Angels, and a lot of cats didn’t make it. ”
"They meant everything to me, so every day is going to be hard," Lessenthein said.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said the fire started in the kitchen and isn't believed to be suspicious.
Most of the inside of Lessenthein's home is in pieces and he lost almost everything, but what he can’t replace, he said, is the biggest loss.
"It’s going to be rough," Lessenthein said. "I think it’s really going to hit when it's close to feeding time and there are a lot fewer bowls to fill.”
"These were some of their favorite places," Lessenthein said, pointing to the cats' favorite spots in the home. "[One cat] ate up on top of that pink cat tree.”
Lessenthein is living next door with family until his home is repaired.
“It’s where we’re going to live," he said. "[My home] is where I plan on spending the rest of my life, it’s just not where we’re going to live right now.”
Lessenthein set up a GoFundMe page mostly to raise money for medical expenses for the surviving cats, and to raise money to build a rescue facility for the cats.