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Cat that survived Black Forest fire on its own gets new name: Phoenix

July 2, 2013 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm
Caption +
Bonnie Olson's cat Dart aka Phoenix is reunited with their dog Paddy Tuesday, July 2, 2013, at their new home in Colorado Springs. The family cat ran away as they were evacuating during the Black Forest Fire and was found on the property eight days later. Olson decided to call him Phoenix after he survived. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

When he was just a kitten he was called Dart because that's what he did.

When he got older he was called Monster because he stalked small wildlife.

And now the orange tabby has a new name: Phoenix - because he arose from the ashes.

Eight years ago Bonnie Olson took pity on the tiny 4-week-old, a sickly little thing being given away at a feed store. It took medicine and love to nurse him back to health.

He grew to be a big, muscular cat. You could call him streetwise, even though he actually lived in Black Forest on 12 acres.

Olson, who runs an adult day care center in Colorado Springs, rushed home the day of the fire, and was able to rescue two dogs, three horses and a second cat. But Monster was nowhere to be found. Olson's husband Eric arrived a bit later, found the cat and put him in the car. But he didn't have a cat carrier, and in the chaos with fire exploding all around, the frightened Monster darted into the forest.

The Olsons thought the cat was a goner. Eight days later, when they were allowed back onto their Shoup Road property for a few minutes, there was no sight of him. But just in case, Bonnie left cat food and some water bowls.

Twelve days after they evacuated they returned to the place they had lived for 20 years. The house and barn were burned to the ground, as was the motor home in which Bonnie and her late artist mother Bonnie Woolsey had once traveled extensively. The hut where Eric practiced on his Irish bagpipes also was destroyed.

Strangely, the seemingly flame-vulnerable dog run piled full of hay and covered with a tarp survived the inferno.

So did the animal who hid inside. A sooty Monster sauntered out from the hay to meet them.

"We don't know if he spent all the time there, or went somewhere else and came back," Bonnie said.

"It's a mystery."

He had lost a lot of weight, which was not a bad thing because he was such a large cat. He had no injuries.

They dropped the Monster moniker and started calling him Phoenix, after the Greek mythological bird that arose from ashes.

Since then, Phoenix had been staying at St. Francis Animal Hospital, where staff was kind enough to house him. But on Monday, he arrived at his new temporary home on North Cascade Avenue.

Phoenix is adjusting to being a house cat. When he arrived he pounced on his catnip cigar toy and then stretched out and rubbed his body on the carpet. Then he tried out perches on various pieces of furniture.

"He's a smart cat. He'll make it work," Bonnie said.

The building once housed the Del Air carpet company before Bonnie's mother turned it into her home and artist studio. A portion is now used for North End Adult Day Care Center that Bonnie operates. A flock of chickens are housed outside. The Olsons are staying in the apartment quarters along with the smaller pets until they decide what they are going to do. The horses are farmed out with friends.

Recently they held a blessing ceremony on the Black Forest property to give thanks for their 20 years there. They may build a cabin on the property, but will probably eventually move to acreage and a house they own near Woodmen Valley.

"I think we have the responsibility to find good in every situation," she says. "So I hope I will look back someday and be grateful. Not grateful that everything burned down. But life is a spiritual journey and so be thankful for the path our lives take because of the radical changes."


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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