While some evacuees from wildfires might have to make do with mats on gymnasium floors, not so for a group of 17 who travelled to Salmon Arm last week.
This group is lounging on cushions or socializing with others in a spacious, comfortable and well-furnished facility, where they can sleep, eat and exercise in comfort.
These evacuees are 17 Bengal cats, who came to Salmon Arm from near 100 Mile House with cat breeders Jennie Fournier and Eli Roy-Brown, their devoted owners.
Other than their size, Bengal cats look like they would belong in a tropical rainforest with their spotted leopard colours and their muscular bodies. Fournier explains their ancestors are the Asian leopard cat, which was crossed with a domestic variety.
Her fear still fresh, Fournier recounts how, with smoke and flames on the horizon, she took a load of cats and some belongings to her mom’s home in Lone Butte, about 20 kilometres away from 105 Mile. When she returned just two hours later, people had already been evacuated. A 92-year-old woman, like a grandmother to her, had been left behind, so Fournier had to persuade a police officer to allow her to go behind the lines and get her. He was nice and provided her an escort, she says.
The cats ended up spending two days in dog crates, as the couple searched for a place to go. To heighten the anxiety, one of the “queens” was due to have kittens in two days. And adding insult to injury, someone claiming to have a house to rent in Vernon stole a $350 deposit from them.
Fournier got in touch with Bengal breeders in Kelowna, who suggested trying Pam and Eric Gretzinger in Salmon Arm.
The Gretzingers are now retired Bengal breeders, but still have their deluxe facility for cats.
“As soon as we heard about them, it was obvious,” said Pam.
Adds Eric: “We quickly cleaned the cattery – we hadn’t used it for a lot of years, and cleaned the motor home.”
“I cried when I walked into the motor home,” remarks Fournier, standing in the cattery Saturday. “They were offering free to use their whole facilities. This is amazing. It’s bigger than what I have at my house. They (the cats) have only been here for a couple of days, and they’re like, ‘Yup, we’re happy.'”
Although the Gretzingers haven’t broadcast their history with Bengal cats locally, they were well-known in the Bengal cat world.
They won thousands of ribbons and awards with their cats, including a world title. They showed them a lot – in Texas, New York, all over North America.
“When we’d get out at a show in New York, people would say, ‘Is that the Canadian cat?'” Eric smiles.
The couple retired to get a break from the 24/7 commitment, but they’ve kept three cats as pets.
“At this time of life, you’d like to do something other than scoop litter,” Eric remarks.
Asked about price, Eric says pets go for about $1,200 to $1,500. Breeding animals cost anywhere from $3,000 to $4,500. One of the Gretzingers’ most cherished sires, Wurthy, was worth $6,000.
Pam laughingly recounts how when she was a girl on a farm, people would drop off cats – for free. But when the couple found a mouse in their former house in Fort St. John, Eric researched cats. He found Bengals – hypoallergenic, little shedding, friendly, intelligent. And so it began.
The Gretzingers, along with Fournier and Roy-Brown, gush enthusiastically about Bengals.
They have fun personalities. They love water.
“We have a huge walk-in shower; in the morning they come and join you,” laughs Eric.
They are smart. Sometimes too smart.
“Sometimes every time we would come home, all the cupboards would be open,” says Pam.
Pam says some people teach them how to use the toilet, although one guy regretted showing his Bengal how to flush.
“The dog would bring stuff to the toilet, drop it in and the cat would flush,” says Eric.
Pam reiterates how glad she and Eric are to be able to help out their guests from 100 Mile.
“It was a perfect scenario – I’m so glad it worked out.”
Their guests are equally pleased.
Says Fournier: “It’s so generous to offer to let us stay here. Eric and Pam, they are the most generous people.”