A family in Paradise, California had been through utter devastation in the final month of 2018, during the Camp Fires that completely transformed their lives. Four-year-old Tyson Baker’s world had been turned upside down. His grandparents home, his uncle’s home and his fathers home were all completely destroyed by the flames.
Although his own home was spared, he lost something more precious than material possessions.
His kitties, 2-year-old siblings, Optimus and Bumblebee who lived with his dad, were lost during the fire.
Tyson, his mom and stepdad weren’t in town when the fires hit, but that didn’t lessen any of the trauma.
Mom Candice honestly sets the record straight for those criticizing people for “leaving their pets behind”.
“In the 15-30 minutes or so of when I first started calling everyone, they were already in gridlock with buildings burning and branches on fire falling around them.”
“[They were] having their cars sprayed with water as they drove through flames. So when people say they had no warning and no time to grab anything even or find their pets, they aren’t kidding.”
For the next month, Tyson and his dad Joe Bolin visited animal shelters in search of the felines.
Both are fixed and micro-chipped, but with thousands of displaced animals, shelters were overwhelmed. As unique as female Optimus and male Bumblebee were to the family, in the chaos, they were lost.
Optimus is an all black cat and Bumblebee is gray tabby, both fixed and have their claws. This description could have been any number of missing family cats.
Visit after visit was met with disappointment.
Tyson’s mom and dad followed up on dozens of missing cat posts, shielding Tyson from the severely injured animals. They visited every cat shelter in the area with no luck. Even with cats being transported from shelter to shelter, they never gave up hope.
Young Tyson wanted to help anyway he could. But what can a child do?
Luckily it was the perfect time of year for a miracle. He asked Santa for something special this holiday season. Admitting he was “good most of the time”, he selflessly requested a tear-jerker of a present.
He asked Santa for leashes and collars for his kitties so when he finds them they won’t get lost again.
…Pause for sobbing.
Candice and Joe were simultaneously heartbroken and overwhelmed with love by Tyson’s gesture.
At 4 ½ years old, Tyson wasn’t solely focused on what’ he’d lost at his dad’s home.
His parents knew that as time went on, the harsh reality of the tragedy would rise to the surface.
“What’s left of Tyson’s and his dad’s home …the truck on the far right was my son’s “Rock crawler monster truck” they would work on.”
“The backyard used to have a fancy chicken coop they built together containing his favorite feathered friends with names like Woodchip and Punch. His kitties once hunted and played on that land and when Tyse would be on adventures with his stick “machete” he’d have a trail of his critters following behind him like some children’s picture book.”
“Thankfully our son has two loving homes and hasn’t had to endure losing everything he owns but it’s starting to sink into him that their home together along with their beloved pets are gone and it’s truly breaking my heart.”
As the days turned to weeks, and weeks until a very long month with no sign of the cats, Candice had to face the harsh reality too.
“I tried to feel him out and say if the kitties decided they want to stay living in the wild cause they are having too much fun with their new friends.. would you want to maybe get another kitty one day?”
“And he said “No momma, I love them, I love them as much as I love you.”
Go ahead…get another tissue, we’ll wait.
Over the month, as the smoke began to finally clear from the skies, Tyson’s wish transformed into a miracle.
Unbeknownst to the family, one man was selflessly dedicated to helping the lost animals of the area.
Thomas Reeves, a FieldHaven volunteer, was in the restricted zones searching for lost animals. There had been a gray cat he’d seen that he was hoping to trap.
But at 3am, it was Optimus that ended up in his trap.
Five weeks after they’d disappeared from the fire zone, Optimus was found just a short distance from his former home.
“Optimus was the only microchipped cat of the night and his owner was there to get him before we even finished moving cats out of my truck. Jo said Optimus was his son’s cat but they had another cat that was grey, I figured it was the one I was originally aiming for.“
On December 12th, Joe arrived at FieldHaven Feline Center in Lincoln, California.
Keeping her discovery a secret, they planned on surprising Tyson with his kitty.
It had been over a month before Optimus was reunited with her “boys”. The smiles on their faces could warm the coldest heart. And she was happily content remaining by Tyson’s side for the rest of the night.
That is, when he finally stopped hugging his beloved girl and put her down! Optimus was home, but their family still wasn’t complete.
Poor Bumblebee was still missing. He was out in the cold and desolate, ash covered remains of the town.
“These houses are burned to piles of ash, brick and melted metals. The cats are not going to come out while there are tons of strangers, tractors and heavy trucks active and the owners aren’t going to be able to sit in their piles of ash for days/nights in the vain hope that their pets survived those intense flames.”
Their hope had been renewed that they’d find him though.
Four days later, they were granted a second miracle.
Bumblebee had been found!
The same caring man, Thomas Reeves, had accepted his role as their “furry godparent” and fulfilled Tyson’s wish. He’d originally given Jo some insight and tips for trying to trap his other kitty, but it is tough to get them in those conditions.
“They had to wait a week for me to get off work again. I loaded up and immediately took off for Paradise, but it took me a day of begging, pleading, persuading and driving through dirt paths/brush trying to get in before I could re-obtain access to the restricted zones.”
“It was pretty wet while trapping, but the rain stopped at night and I rushed to saturate the area Optimus was found with traps. One cat with a microchip was found on one of my last round as the sun was coming up and the heavy trucks were rolling in – he looked different from the pictures but turned out to be the rest of Jo’s missing family!”
After visiting the vet for a full checkup, Tyson and Joe went back to FieldHaven to retrieve their family member.
It’s clear that Bumblebee wasn’t going to let his little human out of his sight again!
The siblings were very happy to see each other and complete the reunion. Since they were both found in the same area, it’s very possible that they’d been a great comfort to each other while missing.
For FieldHaven Feline Center workers, it’s is a touching reminder of why they do what they do every month of the year.
“Each reunion energizes us even more to find more babies and deliver them to their families arms.”