PORT RICHEY — Geneva Freberg, 67, shared her small mobile home with 19 pets. Nine cats. Eight birds. Two dogs.
For Christmas, she roasted a turkey just for the cats and dogs. Apart from a few dear friends, her pets were her world. She didn't get out much.
Around 1 p.m. Wednesday, she smelled smoke as she fed the cats and dogs a chicken she had cooked. She called 911 and Pasco Fire Rescue arrived at 7026 Gordon Drive in seven minutes. The smoke was rolling out of the home.
Freberg grabbed Angel, an elderly, black poodle. But she said she couldn't get to Baby, an old, sickly shih-tzu, or the cats and birds — a Quaker parrot, finches, a canary and a white dove.
The fire was under control in 30 minutes, said Don Campbell, an investigator with Pasco Fire Rescue.
The cats and birds died.
Freberg said the cats were in cages, because that's where she feeds them.
Baby was found hiding under a couch. She survived.
Later, Freberg sat cradling Baby in a chair near her home, which was buckled and blackened. She thought of Snuggles, her Siamese cat.
"I had her for nine years," she said. Her face crumpled, tears running down her cheeks.
"Relax," said her friend Connie Bothos. She put an arm around her. In Bothos' other arm she held Angel, who wore a pink and white turtleneck sweater — a Christmas present. It was brown with soot.
Bothos said she's known Freberg for 15 years. She said they both worked as certified nursing assistants before retiring.
"There are times she would go hungry so she could feed her animals," Bothos said.
Freberg said she lived at in the mobile home at the Tropic Breeze RV Park on U.S. 19 in Port Richey for five years. She said she believes the fire was caused by an electrical problem.
Campbell said the fire is under investigation.
The American Red Cross is helping Freberg with food and clothes.
Freberg said a manager at the mobile home park is letting her stay in a vacant unit.
"Her friends are her animals," Bothos said. "She's in shock."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.