Former Stray Cat Saves Woman’s Life

Nitza Derfner was used to her cat, Mentchi, sneaking under the covers after she went to bed at night. By morning, the 1 ½-year-old cat would move to Derfner’s chest and shoulders, sleeping quietly until her owner woke up.

On Wednesday morning, Mentchi went straight for Derfner’s head, and it saved the San Jose woman’s life.

If the cat hadn’t kept bothering Derfner until she woke up at 5:30 a.m., Derfner is sure she would have died of smoke inhalation. So are firefighters.

“Most fire victims die from smoke, not fire,” San Jose fire Capt. Rob Brown said. “She was well on her way. She’d taken a pretty good dose of smoke.”

Derfner’s South Buena Vista Avenue home was half-filled with smoke when Mentchi woke her up, he said.

“She got lucky. Very lucky the cat was in the house and had enough sense to pester her.”

A neighbor called firefighters at 5:37 a.m. and the fire was controlled by 6:27 a.m., Brown said. The fire started in the front — in a living room/office area — but the cause has not yet been determined, he said. Damage was estimated at $30,000.

“I feel so lucky,” Derfner said late Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think I would have gotten out.”

Derfner had smoke detectors, but they were hard-wired and the backup batteries apparently weren’t working, something everyone should guard against, Brown said.

“When the time changes (for daylight savings), check your smoke detector and change the batteries,”

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he said. “That way, they get changed every six months.”

Pets are also good to have, he said, “because they can sense earthquakes and smoke a lot faster than we can.”

Derfner already knew she had something special when she adopted the stray cat at her apartment complex.

The cat was shy and a little sick when she took her in but slowly became her true self: “very human.”

“When she’s outside, she’s a real cat,” Derfner said. “When she comes into the house, she’s a real person.”

She said she realizes others might think it strange, but she talks to the cat, and the sensitive feline listens.

When the fire started, “she must have insisted I wake up,” Derfner said. “I woke up and went to turn on the light and there was no light. When I got up, it was hot.”

She started walking toward the living room but could see a fire in the floor and turned toward the kitchen to get the fire extinguisher.

“There was no light and heavy smoke,” she said. “I almost buckled. I found the door and ran out.”

A neighbor later told Derfner she saw the cat run out, too.

The two reunited during the day and spent part of the afternoon together, stretched out side by side on the grass in front of the apartment complex. Derfner had bought her some extra treats and Mentchi was purring loudly.

“She’s an amazing cat,” Derfner said. “When things seem a little out of place, she lets me know.”

[SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News]

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