Virginia Clark Davis loved animals, so much so that on the walls of her modest mobile home in northwest Hillsborough were framed pictures of her beloved pets.
She fed the neighborhood strays and shared her home with seven cats and a dog named Happy.
But early Wednesday that all ended. Fire swept through Davis' mobile home at 12906 Cambridge Ave. killing the woman and six of her cats.
"She struggled to the door and died at the front," said a tearful Olive Miller, owner of the mobile home and a friend of Davis. "Her six cats died, but her dog survived. He was probably on the front porch."
Davis' home caught fire about 12:30 a.m., said Hillsborough fire officials, who found the 49-year-old woman just a few steps from a side door, apparently overcome by smoke.
Hillsborough Sheriff's Detective Larry Lingo said a major part of the mobile home had been destroyed before firefighters arrived. The cause of the fire had not been determined Wednesday, and officials said it might never be known.
Arson is not suspected, Lingo said.
Davis had lived in the mobile home for about six weeks and for the past five weeks had worked as a veterinarian's assistant at the Abraam Animal Hospital on Anderson Road, Miller said.
"She was a wonderful person," said Wendy Hamm, a co-worker at the animal hospital. "She took care of all these animals. They lived in the annex of the house."
Miller returned to Davis' home later Wednesday morning to pick up Happy the dog and also to look for Isaac, the only one of Davis' cats to survive the fire.
"He came running and jumping and meowing," said Kathleen Stuart, another of Davis' friends. "He was probably so frightened. He looked at us and then ran back in there."
Davis' next-door neighbor, John Villega, said his stepdaughter, who was returning home for the evening, called the fire department after seeing flames.
"It's a good thing we didn't have a wind like in the afternoon," Villega said. If so, his property would have caught fire, too, he said.