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Four dogs, cat perish in Warren house fire

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 11, 2019

 Four dogs and at least one cat died as the result of a house fire on Toepfer Road between Federal Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard April 11.

Four dogs and at least one cat died as the result of a house fire on Toepfer Road between Federal Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard April 11.

Photo provided by Lisa Taylor

“I can’t even imagine. You don’t want to lose your animals. Who cares about the house? They’re great people. They’re devastated.”

Dianne Reeves, I Heart Dogs Rescue Executive Director

WARREN — Despite what was by all accounts an incredible team effort by Warren’s first responders, four dogs and at least one cat were overcome by smoke and perished in a residential fire April 11.

“I didn’t even care about the house,” said Michele Behm, who lives in the home on Toepfer Road between Federal Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard with her husband, David, and daughter, Kyra. “My babies are gone.”

Warren Fire Chief Tim Morgan said the call came in at 11:30 a.m. and that firefighters with a quint apparatus from Station 1 on Nine Mile Road at Federal Avenue, across from Lincoln High School, were on the scene in just two minutes.

“Lots of smoke coming out of the roof and eaves,” Morgan said. “The neighbors were on the phone with the owners of the house, and so they immediately told the firefighters that nobody was in the house except for dogs.”

Morgan said the fire was extinguished by 11:43 a.m. and that search crews were able to locate all four dogs. “One was deceased right away,” Morgan said. “We tried doing CPR with our special K-9 oxygen masks. We were unable to revive any of the other three dogs. They all perished as well.”

One of the cats was later found deceased. A second cat remained missing at press time.

Warren Police Department animal control officers assisted at the scene in an attempt to revive the pets.

“You’ve got to try,” animal control officer Lisa Taylor said. “When we got there, they had a mask on two dogs. A third one came out of the house that they thought could be revived. We were giving some chest compressions and trying, but they were not there.”

Warren animal control officer Nicole Fear also assisted at the scene and emphasized how hard firefighters worked to save the animals.

“They are so compassionate when it comes to animals. You know that they care,” Fear said.

Three of the four dogs were rescue animals adopted through Warren’s I Heart Dogs Rescue. Dianne Reeves, the rescue’s executive director and co-founder, went to the scene after the neighborhood’s U.S. Postal Service letter carrier alerted one of the rescue’s employees. The letter carrier knows the employee, and was aware that the employee knew the Behms.  

“I can’t even imagine. You don’t want to lose your animals. Who cares about the house?” Reeves said. “They’re great people. They’re devastated.”

Reeves said the rescue had arranged to help the family with final arrangements for the pets and that Faithful Companion Pet Cremation Services in Royal Oak had stepped up to defray the costs.

Behm said she was working in Ferndale on the first day at a new job when her daughter sent a message to her boss after learning about the fire from a neighbor who smelled smoke and called 911.

“My boss was like, ‘You need to leave. Your house is on fire,’” Behm said.

The family’s dogs lost as a result of the fire were Chili Pepper, a 2-year-old beagle-American foxhound-bichon frise mix; Sydney, a mastiff mix that would have turned 3 in September; Coby, a shepherd mix and nearly 9 years old with special needs; and Elsa, an 11-year-old boxer-beagle mix named after the ice queen from the movie “Frozen.”

Elsa was feral when she first came to I Heart Dogs.

“I hated that movie. The rescue named her, and it was so appropriate because she was so feral that we had to melt her heart,” Behm said. “She was wonderful.”

Of Elsa’s progress with the Behms, Reeves added, “She probably lived her best year of her life with them.”

Tigger, one of the family’s two cats, was found dead at the scene. The second cat, Venom, had not been located at press time.

Just a few hours after the fire, Behm offered an emotional thanks to the city’s firefighters and animal control officers.

“They tried so hard to save them. Thank you so much,” Behm said. “They were working on them so hard. I can’t say enough.”

The exact cause of the fire remained undetermined at press time.