'The most special bond': Kitten rescued from fire, 7-year-old girl help each other heal

A tiny tabby pulled limp and near death from a house fire in Winnipeg is now the best friend of a little girl dealing with her own wounds.

Winnipeg paramedic who helped save kitten after July 28 fire has given it a new home

Other than a missing right ear, half his whiskers singed away, and a tail crooked from being broken, Magnus is 'just a normal cat now,' said Erica Ongenae. (Winnipeg Humane Society)

A tiny tabby pulled limp and near death from a house fire in Winnipeg is now the best friend of a little girl dealing with her own wounds.

Erica Ongenae is a paramedic who helped save the life of the five-week-old male kitten, later named Cinder by Humane Society caregivers. The seven-year-old girl is her daughter, who is recovering from past trauma of her own.

"She's been through a lot. So has he," Ongenae said of her daughter and the cat, which she has since renamed Magnus, after the street where the house fire happened in July.

"He's helping her get through her trauma, and she's helping him. They have the most special bond — they're best friends."​

Erica Ongenae's daughter Callie and Magnus have become the best of friends. (Submitted by Erica Ongenae)

Ongenae and her partner, Rebecca Keddy, were on standby at the fire in Winnipeg's North End on July 28, when they heard over the two-way emergency radio that a kitten had been found.

Little more than palm-sized, Magnus was dripping wet and covered in smeared soot. Firefighters found him frightened and hiding under a pile of clothing.

"He was so small, so scared. He had soot in his mouth, so we knew he had smoke inhalation," said Ongenae, who put a pet rescue oxygen mask on the kitten and warmed up his body temperature.

"We didn't think he was going to make it."

Ongenae, who says she and Keddy are "major" animal lovers, urged the firefighters to look for more kittens, and possibly the mother. No others were found.

'I just wanted to give him a good home'

The city's animal services department was called once the kitten was stabilized and he was taken to a vet before being transferred to the Humane Society, where he received care that included surgery.

Through all of that relocating, Ongenae made sure everyone knew she had become attached.

"I said I wanted to adopt him if nobody claimed him. As soon as I saw him, I said I wanted to take him home," she said. "He's been through so much and I just wanted to give him a good home."

Erica Ongenae holds Magnus, previously known as Cinder, shortly after the kitten was rescued and given oxygen. (Submitted by Erica Ongenae )

She told animal services and made certain to call the Humane Society, and a few weeks later, Ongenae was told the kitten had recovered, but was homeless. Nobody came to claim him.

"The Humane Society, I can't believe how great they are — they did so much for him, all the surgeries and everything, even though he was a stray," Ongenae said.

She went to pick him up and got a bit of a surprise.

"I thought he was a black or grey kitten because of the soot, but he turned out to be bright orange," said Ongenae.

The kitten, soaking wet and covered in dark soot, was outfitted with a pet rescue mask for oxygen. (Winnipeg Humane Society)

Coincidentally, her daughter had mentioned a couple of weeks earlier that she wanted an orange cat.

Magnus is now doing well, with his fur growing over his surgery scars and no sign of any skittishness from his ordeal.

Other than a missing right ear, half his whiskers singed away, and a tail crooked from being broken, "he's just a normal cat now," said Ongenae, who loves the flaws and the story they tell.

"He's super cute."

A cat that didn't have a home a few months ago now has a family, a best friend and … a Christmas stocking.

"[My daughter] made sure we got him one. So Santa will be coming for him," said Ongenae.

The story of the cat once known as Cinder was recently highlighted by the Humane Society, which is grateful for his recovery but reminding the public that it doesn't come cheap.

As soon as I saw him I said I wanted to take him home. He's been through so much and I just wanted to give him a good home.- Erica Ongenae

"As we head into the end of the year, we must raise an urgently needed $35,000 to ensure we can help other lion-hearted animals like Cinder," a Facebook post states.

Spokeswoman Lenore Hume said this is the time of year the animal agency begins its annual fundraising campaign.

More stories like that of Cinder/Magnus will be posted each week, "as we hope to tap into Winnipeggers' hearts at the start of the giving season," Hume said.

"There's no shortage of great stories and animals in need, but Cinder's was a particularly heartwarming one."

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: