It was Thanksgiving Day nine years ago when Greg Hessig met Sashimi for the first time, after luring the kitten into his cousin’s house with leftover pieces of turkey.
The tiny domestic medium-haired kitten quickly became a part of his family. Since then, Sashimi has been a “survivor,” said Hessig. Whether it’s putting up with the energy of his 4-year-old twins or surviving the Valley Fire that burned down their home in Middletown two years ago, Sashimi has been through it all.
Last month, Sashimi proved his survival skills once again.
On the night of Oct. 8, Hessig saw Sashimi bouncing around outside his window. His cat was the first alarm for the fire that was making its way toward their house in Santa Rosa.
As heavy smoke and embers surrounded their home, Hessig began evacuating his family, but Sashimi couldn’t be found. “I called him, but he was gone already,” he said.
When the Hessigs returned after the fires, they found their house burned to the ground, but Sashimi’s two scratching posts still stood tall.
Hessig posted photos to a Facebook group called Sonoma and Napa Missing and Found Pets that works to reunite owners with their animals.
Dave Yarger Jr. is one of many volunteers who have been setting traps for missing felines after the fires. He first learned the technique three years ago, when he started volunteering for Forgotten Felines.
“The day after the fire, pictures of the burned kitties started coming up,” said Yarger. “So a group of people started placing food around that perimeter, as close as they could get. I just immediately knew we had to get in there and help them.”
In the last two weeks alone, Yarger has successfully trapped several cats on just the single corner that he is covering in Santa Rosa. He and other trappers share their success stories on the Sonoma and Napa Fires Reunited Pets Facebook page.
“The way everyone has come together, unorganized, unconnected, no prior friendships or anything, just random strangers that have all just kind of fallen into the same little group,” said Yarger. “It’s amazing how everyone has just come together with a specific goal in mind.”
After coming home from 10-hour days working as a CNC machinist, Yarger spends any free time he has setting up and watching traps — most nights for hours on end.
Yarger also had to evacuate during the fire, but luckily saved all six of his cats. And his Santa Rosa home was unharmed.
“With everything about this fire, the emotions are just nothing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “This has given me something to focus on that’s positive, just to be able to get through it all.”
Two weeks ago, he saw Sashimi eating at a feeding station set up outside a fellow trapper’s house.
After spotting Sashimi several times in the area, Yarger went out on Nov. 20, after two days of heavy rain had washed away the food at the feeding stations. He set a trap, parked his car down the street and began waiting.
He watched Sashimi approach the trap. He got out of his car, and Sashimi took off.
Sashimi came back again, but this time was scared away by people passing who called out to him. “At that point, I thought I was never going to get him,” Yarger said.
All the while, he was texting Jennifer Abbott-Scott, another volunteer trapper, to keep her updated on the mission.
“Please kitty, just eat the chicken,” Abbott-Scott recalled Yarger texting her.
Ten minutes later, Sashimi came back for the chicken and slowly but surely approached the cage. Yarger trapped him and quickly sent Abbott-Scott a photo.
“I thought he looked familiar, so I just hopped onto our Facebook page, which has an album of lost pets, and let Dave [Yarger] know there was a strong match,” said Abbott-Scott, via Facebook messenger.
Hessig, after getting the call, was reunited with his cat by midnight. Sashimi was very skinny, but luckily suffered no fire damage. “Once I got him in the car, he started eating some of the food I set in there,” said Hessig. “Then he calmed down and was purring and everything.”
“You trap them, and you look in their eyes and you know they’re scared, but you know that they have feelings and emotions,” said Yarger. “To see them reunited, and then they know things are going to be OK from that point, it’s a beautiful thing.”
The Hessigs are looking forward to letting Sashimi explore his backyard in the new house in Santa Rosa they are in the process of finalizing paperwork for — on Wikiup Drive.
“It’s hard for us, because we barely have a place to live, and then trying to look for the pet and do all this other stuff going on. It’s just hard to do it by yourself,” said Hessig. “It’s a good thing people like Dave are actually on the case.”
Nine years after first being lured into the Hessig family with bits of Thanksgiving turkey, it was Kentucky Fried Chicken that brought Sashimi back. This year for the holiday, he has earned an extra slice.