Woman saves exotic birds, cats, tortoise and other animals from house fire

Originally published on Page A1 of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Daily Record/Sunday News

Molly – a cavalier-cocker spaniel mix with dark brown spots – emerged from the thick woods behind a still-smoldering roof in the 200 block of Creek Road in Newberry Township.

Her owner, Wanda Senft, fought back tears. She assumed the panicked pooch had run away and gotten lost – or worse – when flames erupted from inside the single story home at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

As the bedroom burned, the dogs helped themselves to safety.

Senft re-entered to rescue the others.

There was Delilah, a macaw parrot colored in shades of red, blue and green.

There was salmon-colored Moluccan cockatoo, a bluefront Amazon parrot, two additional exotic birds, three leopard geckos, a bearded dragon, a leopard tortoise, and several cats.

Dwarfed by their large, metal cages, Senft wheeled her pets out of the home in the same way they started entering it 13 years ago – one-by-one.

“It’s just my hobby,” she said. “The birds were by accident.”

It started with just one parrot.

Then – as it often goes – “one thing led to another,” she said.

“I don’t know how I got them all out, but I got them all out,” said Senft, who lives with 50-year-old Richard Druck, her partner of 27 years.

As firefighters arrived, one of five animal cages remained inside the home.

When it comes to pets and house fires, Robert Kohler, first assistant for York Haven Fire Department, offered some advice:

“Leave your animals behind.”

But Senft just couldn’t. She had buried a dead cat two days ago, and couldn’t bear to lose another pet.

“She was in the house and not leaving,” Kohler said.

Firefighters whisked away the remaining bird just in time.

Neighbors emptied a nearby shed to make space to store the cages, which were draped in blankets to keep the animals warm.

“I’m just glad I was home,” Senft said.

The fire was extinguished by 5:45 p.m., Kohler said. A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal will investigate the cause of the blaze, he said.

Senft said she believes the flames originated in the wood stove the couple uses to heat the house.

“One minute, everything was fine,” she said. “It only took two minutes until it was out of hand.”

Firefighters labeled the house a “chimney fire with extension.” It wasn’t a total loss, Kohler said. Senft hopes to return and salvage some belongings.

The Red Cross is assisting the couple with food and clothing and will follow up to see if they need anything else.

It’s just one more thing she’ll have to deal with this year, she said.

On Tuesday, she’s scheduled to undergo knee surgery for torn cartilage.

In October, she was laid off from her job as a truck driver for a steel company.

Druck, 50, worked at a sheet metal business in Harrisburg. He was laid off in August.

Still, Senft – wrapped in a gray blanket to shield herself from the cold, wet air – was able to see the silver lining.

No Christmas gifts had been ruined. The couple hadn’t been able to afford much holiday shopping, she said.

The pets were safe.

Her second dog, a cockapoo Chihuahua mix named Buddy, darted back and forth across the lawn, keeping everyone entertained throughout the stressful evening.

“It happened,” Senft said. “What are you going to do? Your whole life is gone.”


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