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Article: Saved by the Backpack: How “The Fat Cat” Backpack Helped Willow Grace and Her Momma Escape from a Fire

Saved by the Backpack: How “The Fat Cat” Backpack Helped Willow Grace and Her Momma Escape from a Fire

When the fire alarm went off in Michele’s building, the first thing she grabbed was her cat backpack—and it ended up saving both her and her kitty’s life.

The proud momma of Willow Grace, an adorable Adventure Cat with her own online following, Michele recently posted a video about their experience.

 We caught up with Michele and Willow Grace to learn more about their narrow escape, how the cat backpack helped, and what all cat pawrents can do to prepare for emergencies.

Quick as a cat

Michele and Willow almost didn’t make it out. Since their building had had many false fire alarms in the past, Michele wasn’t immediately sure what to do. But when she poked her head out into the hallway and saw it filling up with smoke, she knew it was time to get out, and fast.

Though they had an emergency duffle bag with Willow’s necessary supplies in it, Michele made a split-second decision to reach for “The Fat Cat” Cat Backpack instead. Throwing in Willow’s harness and leash, she grabbed the sleeping kitty off her cat tree and zipped her in the backpack, then grabbed her purse, keys, and cell phone and headed for the door.

Wearing the backpack in front, Michele ran as fast as she could down the stairwell, but with each floor, the smoke got thicker. Then, the power went out. At least, that’s what she thought had happened. But the power hadn’t gone out—she was simply engulfed in black, toxic smoke so thick she couldn’t see a thing. 

According to Michele: “My eyes, nose, mouth and lungs started to burn. I was all alone in the stairwell. At that point I had no idea what floor I was on, and the thought did enter my head that I might not make it out before I’d be overcome with smoke inhalation.”

A narrow escape

It was then that the cat backpack really came in handy. Having Willow in the backpack meant that both of Michele’s hands were free, so she used one hand to pull her shirt up over her face and the other to feel where she was going.

Finally, she made it out. Gasping for air, she unzipped the backpack to see if Willow was OK. She was!

In Michele’s words: “I feel the Fat Cat Backpack saved both our lives because it allowed me to run as fast as I could, with my hands free, while Willow Grace was zipped safely inside and her head was not exposed directly to the smoke. If I had been slowed by a couple more minutes, the outcome might be tragically different.”

A true adventure cat

Not only did the cat backpack save Willow’s life; it meant she was pretty unfazed, even while escaping from a life-threatening situation. Michele had trained her to see the backpack as a “safe spot,” and as an Adventure Cat, Willow didn’t run and hide when she heard the fire alarm. Rather than being bothered by all the loud noises and big trucks, Willow was fascinated by them!

As they waited for things to return to normal, Willow and her pawrents had to spend more than eight hours without cat food, water, or a litter box. These were trying times for any kitty, but Willow was just fine—in fact, she even made a new friend! (And was gracious enough to share her Churu treats!)

Emergency tips for cat pawrents

In light of their experience, Michele and Willow shared some tips to help cat pawrents prepare for an emergency—whether it’s a fire, flood, power outage, or other event. Here, in Michele’s own words, are their safety tips:

Familiarize your cat with the chosen emergency carrier. 

Even if your cat is not an “Adventure Cat,” try carrying them around in the carrier, even in the house, so it becomes a safe spot. 

Be aware of your cat’s hiding spots. 

Consider blocking off areas that are harder for you to access in a hurry. For example, if your cat hides under the bed when frightened, try blocking the underside of the bed so they can’t get under it. 

If you do take your cat outside, consider slowly acclimating them to loud noises so they aren’t skittish.

Make sure you know your house or building layout well. That way, if you do have to escape in the dark, or in thick smoke, you won’t get disoriented.

Add pics of your cat’s important medical information to your phone so you can grab that in an emergency and be ready to go.

Packing your emergency bag

So what goes in that all-important emergency carrier? Here’s what Michele and Willow suggest:

  • Harness, collar, AirTag, leash
  • Enough food for a day (dry food, 1 can of wet food, treats + Churus), periodically check expiry dates and rotate out as needed
  • Food/water dishes (collapsible ones are amazing)
  • Flashlight (check batteries often and ensure it’s in good working condition)
  • N95 masks (to help with smoke)
  • Phone charger 
  • Doggie poop bags
  • Kleenex 
  • We also have the black plastic mesh plate in the bottom of the bag in case we need to switch out the “space bubble”
  • If possible, have a travel litter box available to take. We keep the Porta-Pawty in our vehicle but were unable to access it in the underground parking due to the fire.  

Seasonal things to carry: 

  • Summer - sunscreen for humans, cooling pad, cooling bandana, raincoat
  • Winter - sweater/jacket for cat, blanket

While it’s important to have water for your kitty (and yourself!) in an emergency situation, Michele noted that the Red Cross passed out water bottles after the evacuation of their building. Since it’s typically pretty easy to get access to water, they don’t pack it in their emergency supplies.

Keeping kitties safe

While their experience was certainly scary, Willow and her pawrents escaped unharmed and were eventually able to return to their building. Now, they’re sharing their story to help other cat owners think ahead. 

According to Michele: “The original social media post about our escape from the fire has taken on a life of its own. It’s received comments from people saying it has made them think and has started valuable discussions. If we can help save a cat’s life in the future from what we learned, then it’s all worthwhile.”

Thanks, Michele and Willow Grace!

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