British Columbia

Fort McMurray man stayed behind and fed dozens of dogs, cats and rabbits

When Lee Ellis decided to wait for the rush of people evacuating Fort McMurray to calm down, he kept himself busy — feeding and giving water to dogs, cats and other pets that he came across or that people on Facebook had asked him to check in on.

Lee Ellis says he fed pets that he came across or that people on Facebook asked him to check up on

Lee Ellis with one of the many cats in Fort McMurray that he fed while remaining in the city after it had been evacuated. (Facebook.com/lee.ellis.980)

When Lee Ellis decided to wait for the rush of people evacuating Fort McMurray to calm down, he kept himself busy — feeding and giving water to dogs, cats and other pets that he came across or that people on Facebook had asked him to check in on.

Using a bicycle to get around the city, Ellis says he visited about 20 houses a day over a four day period to feed and care for the dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and fish that had been left behind when the wildfire sparked mass evacuations on May 3.

"They weren't only starved for food and water, they were starved for attention," Ellis told host Chris Walker on Daybreak South.

"They were right on me. They were rubbing up against me." 

Checked on friends', strangers' pets

Ellis, who divides his time between homes in Kelowna and Fort McMurray, said that he was at work an hour north of the city when the evacuation order went out.

One of the pet bunnies that Ellis and a friend helped feed in Fort McMurray. (Facebook.com/lee.ellis.980)

When he went back to his house in the city it was "mayhem," so he decided to wait for before leaving.

"The next morning my friend asked me to go check on his cat, because he was stuck up north, so I went to his house, fed and watered his cat, and then on the way back I heard some dogs barking in a backyard," Ellis said.

"So I went and knocked on the house. No one was there, so I proceeded to take those three dogs and I brought them to my house."

Ellis posted his exploits on Facebook, and before long people were sharing his posts and reaching out to him.

'The thanks were overwhelming'

"They would give me their door codes. They would tell me where the food was. There were only a couple of incidents where I had to feed them out of my own supply," he said.

"The support and the thanks were overwhelming on my Facebook page. It was unbelievable. It helped me keep on going when I was too tired to go."

He said that at the same time he was caring for pets, he also took photographs of people's homes so that they would know they hadn't been destroyed by the fire.

"It gave people a lot of great hope at a time of despair," he said.

Ellis said he and some friends went around the city on bicycles to avoid being found and kicked out of the city — but said after the fourth day "we had bruises on our butts."

That's when they decided to use a car to get around, but were stopped by the RCMP and taken to the check-in point for evacuees.

Ellis, who was in Kelowna May 12, said he will be back at work on Monday, but won't have access to his home in Fort McMurray and will be staying in a work camp north of the city instead.

He said his experience helping pets was "surreal", and said that a house that stands out in his memory was one that they discovered had four dogs inside.

"We went to the garage door and it slid open, and then all the four dogs ran from the house into the garage and they were happy to see us," he said.

"Their faces were elated."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Kelowna man stays behind in Fort McMurray and feeds dozens of dogs, cats and rabbits left behind by evacuees.

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