SURREY — Losing all your worldly belongings in a house fire is tragic enough, but Surrey resident Donna Vallee also lost three of her four dogs.
Sitting in her hospital bed last Friday, Vallee struggled to fight back tears.
“I just can’t stop crying,” said a grief-stricken Vallee.
Vallee said an ambulance attendant told her the dogs “burned up.”
“All that was on the beds was bones. That’s all there was.”
In the wee morning hours of Aug. 7, Vallee and eight other residents of a Surrey fourplex, near 103rd Avenue and 128th Street, awoke to find their home on fire. Twenty-three firefighters fought the two-alarm fire, but the home was destroyed.
The human residents all escaped, but three of Vallee’s dogs did not.
“Something was really, really wrong here,” she said. “If somebody started it, they need to be locked up.”
Vallee tearfully recounted the fateful morning.
“I had a hard time getting down the stairs and it was just orange. The flames were right in the living room,” she said. “There was a lot of smoke. Oh my god, there was a lot of smoke.”
Vallee, who uses a walker, made it down her staircase with one of her four poodle-maltese dogs.
Outside, after realizing three of her dogs were still inside, she went back inside in an attempt to rescue the remaining dogs.
Vallee said she couldn’t find them.
“I called them but they were probably passed out at that time. Just breathing that stuff, I’ll tell you, that inhalation is a killer.”
When she returned outside, she collapsed on the grass, and her memory is blurry after that. She was taken to Surrey Memorial Hospital, where she has remained.
Her sister, Cathy Cook, said the firemen told her to give Vallee heck for going back inside.
“They said if she had been in there 30 more seconds she would’ve died,” Cook said. “She already has emphysema.”
“That’s why I’m in here,” she said of her smoke inhalation. “They had me on medication for quite some time, and oxygen. I’m coughing smoke up, and cinder. I even coughed a chunk of cinder up.”
Vallee is distraught after the loss.
“They were all girls,” Vallee said of her dogs, her voice breaking. “They all had the same parents.”
Two of the dogs who perished, Onyx and Princess, were 11. Missy, who is from the same litter as the surviving dog Precious, also died.
“I sure miss those guys. They gave me a lot of good years anyway. I pulled them out (during birth),” she added. “I cry at the drop of a hat. Dogs are like family. I was so close to my dogs. I didn’t have any friends, my dogs were my friends because my friends screwed me up so bad.”
In addition to grieving her animals, Vallee is left to worry about where she will live and how she will replace her belongings that were lost in the fire.
“I have nothing. Absolutely nothing. Every bloody thing I owned is gone,” she said. “This hospital has been very good to me. They’ve let me stay here. I’m going to have to go pretty soon.”
As of Monday morning, Vallee still didn’t have a place to live.
The sisters were going to look at a temporary suite, offered through Facebook, later in the day.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” said Vallee.
On Thursday (Aug. 10), Cook started a GoFundMe campaign for her sister.
The initial goal was $1,000, but as of Monday morning the fundraising page had surpassed $2,000. Cook estimates her sister will need about $5,000 in all.
Cook hopes people can donate clothes, size 10 to 12, or second-hand furniture, household items, non-perishable items and dog food.
Vallee’s downstairs neighbour Esther Walls, who is caring for the surviving dog Precious for Vallee until she’s able to, urged the public to donate.
“My family did a GoFundMe account for me and I have had an amazing response, but Donna has nothing,” Walls said. “I am fortunate, in the industry I work in, (people) have given to me, including co-workers and extended family, but Donna most likely will not have that kind of support, so could do with assistance from the public.”
To donate, or get in touch with Vallee’s family, visit the donation page at gofundme.com/donnas-starting-over-fund.