Team rescues cats trapped in rubble from Boulders at Lakeridge apartment fire

Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 11:27 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A Lubbock woman is rebuilding her life after an apartment fire with her cats safely by her side, thanks to a team of rescuers who saved them from the rubble. It’s been two weeks, but several families are still in recovery mode after the fire at the Boulders at Lakeridge Apartments. Tuesday, Sarah Ruehlen returned to what had been her home for six years to salvage anything she could.

In the chaos immediately following the fire, officials on the scene told Ruehlen one of her cats ran away, and another was dead inside the apartment. The next day, the office called and told her someone found one of her cats alive, Puff, and that she was in the office. She went and picked her up, and then headed back to her apartment unit in hopes of finding the other two cats’ bodies and some closure.

As the day progressed, several of Ruehlen’s friends, neighbors, and even strangers joined in the effort to find the cats. That group includes her friend Stephanie Kelley, who volunteers with Kat’s Alley Cats, a trap-neuter-return non-profit. Her friend Kara Lindsey joined the team alongside one of Ruehlen’s neighbors, Ruth Hermosillo. Joey Hernandez was tagged in a post about the search in the Facebook group Lubbock Lost and Found Pets. He’s known for rescuing dogs with the help of his drone and returning lost pets to their owners.

“The biggest thing was I just wanted to give them closure. That’s what I do when I look for animals. Whether deceased or alive, people need closure. That’s the worst thing is not knowing what’s wrong or where your animal is,” Hernandez said.

Through all of the debris, he couldn’t find the cats using his drone. So, he went to find a spot to charge it and found an opening on one side of the apartment that wasn’t blocked off.

“Everybody said, they can’t go in, we’re not supposed to, it’s dangerous. Blah blah blah, and I kind of see that as a challenge,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was an Army Ranger for 12 years, going on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he’s still a soldier, but when it comes to the animal rescue world, there’s hardly ever good news.

“I was expecting to find deceased cats in there, but I made my way up to the top and I talked to God. I was like, hey God, this kind of sketch. You know, whatever happens, happens. But let me help these people if you can. And there’s just a huge answer. There’s no other way to say it,” Hernandez said.

He made his way through the wreckage to find Ruehlen’s cat Plotz, still breathing and trapped beneath a wooden chest. With the help of his team, he was able to trap the cat and get it safely outside the apartment. Then, he found her other cat, Catsby, beneath a cat tree that had fallen just right to create some space for her to survive. He and Hermosillo were able to trap it and then hand it off to other team members down the stairs until it was safely outside. Ruehlen was reunited with her fur babies, overwhelmed by her rescue team.

“To know that everybody was out here helping me to try and find them and save them, it just, it means the world to me. There’s nothing more, there’s no way that I can ever repay them for everything that they’ve done,” Ruehlen said.

Puff, Plotz, and Catsby are now safe, healthy, and home with Ruehlen - a temporary home, until she can bounce back to find another place to move after the fire.

“I know that most of it is a total loss and honestly, I’m OK with that because my cats are with me and that’s all that really matters,” Ruehlen said.

While she has her fur babies, Sarah says it’s still very stressful figuring out how to move forward. She says the office at the Boulders at Lakeridge Apartments is still accepting donations for these victims. Kelley also set up a GoFundMe account to help Ruehlen recover.