18 cats die, 16 survive fire at Jacksonville veteran’s home

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A homeowner on Jacksonville’s Northside said his house went up in flames Saturday morning, and 18 cats died in the fire.

The fire was on Galway Avenue.

Kurt Lessenthien, the owner of the house, is also the adoption coordinator at Catty Shack Ranch. He said two rodents died in the fire, but one lived. He said a dog inside the home also made it out OK.

Photo from scene of house fire
Photo from scene of house fire (News4Jax.com)

Sixteen cats that were inside, Lessenthien said, made it out alive. One cat hasn’t been found. The military veteran said he was out buying food for the dozens of cats he cares for when he got the call that his house was on fire.

“It’s a lot of devastation," he said. “The fire pretty much destroyed the whole front half of the house."

Photo from inside home
Photo from inside home (News4Jax.com)

Lessenthien volunteers most of his time at Catty Shack, but he said he was also working to start his own cat rescue, which was going to be called Dreidel’s House Cat Rescue.

“It was expensive," he said. "We were going into debt to do this that’s why we were starting ourselves as a rescue. Gonna become a nonprofit so that doors would open. We just hadn’t gotten that far when that happened”

The first cat Lessenthien adopted when he got a place of his own was Joy. She was 12 years old and died Saturday, along with more than a dozen cats -- all of whom Lessenthien said gave his life purpose.

“I’m thankful for that cats that did survive, and even after everything, after all the firemen left, after the inspector had gone through, we came into the house through the broken door and started looking around and heard a ‘meow,'" he said. “But it’s just going be a long, tough road, I know. So any help people can give us will be great.”

Lessenthien said the house has severe water and smoke damage. He said the cause of the fire is unknown, but he believes it might have started in the kitchen.

The veteran started an online fundraising account to help with pet supplies and home repairs. Catty Shack is also collecting supplies for Lessenthien.

A lover of cats of all sizes, Lessenthien volunteers 60 to 100 hours a month at Catty Shack Ranch.

Executive director Curt LoGuidice said Lessenthien is one of the sanctuary’s most dedicated employees.

“Huge heart, huge care for the animals and the folks that come out and help care for the animals,” LoGuidice said. "He had a lot of responsibilities, and of course, those things I believe made him what he is, an animal lover and a caretaker.”

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