A pit bull saved his owner as flames ripped through the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society Shelter early Thursday morning, but a dozen cats died in the flames.

Johanna White, who lived in an apartment above the shelter, said the dog, Baby, jumped on her as she slept and woke her during the fire.

White told television station KTVU-TV Channel 2 that Baby saved her life.

"I'm so grateful my dog woke me up," White told KTVU. "I'm just so, so lucky. I have a good dog. I was not a dog fan either. He's my husband and daughter's dog. I may have to re-evaluate my stance. He's definitely a keeper."

The blaze broke out after midnight in the society's shelter in the 2700 block of Ninth Street.

Berkeley Fire Department spokeswoman Sabina Imrie said the fire is under investigation but officials suspect it was caused by a dryer in the first-floor laundry room. She estimated damage to the building at $500,000.

Imrie said employees and volunteers arrived shortly after firefighters at the two-story shelter and worked side by side with firefighters to rescue about 25 cats and dogs.

They were too late, however, for the cats.

"It's absolutely devastating," said Katherine O'Donnell, communications director for the society.

Tears streamed down O'Donnell's face as she gave a tour of the burned-out building where the cats were housed.


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"The door between the cat and dog rooms was closed, so that kept some of the smoke from overwhelming the dogs." About 15 dogs are housed in outdoor kennels next to the main building and none were harmed, she said. They were taken to the Berkeley animal services building.

The 15 cats that survived were brought to an animal hospital, O'Donnell said.

"Right now we need to find foster homes for the dogs and cats," O'Donnell added.

"We save about 800 animals a year and this fire will put a significant damper on what we do."

Lost in the fire were cat quarters, a cat adoption area, restrooms, a laundry room, an office, a two-bedroom apartment and a board room.

The building now has no electricity, phone or water service.

A fire official on the scene said the humane society had its annual safety inspection about two months ago and the facility was in compliance.

The society is asking for donations to help the surviving animals and to start to rebuild, O'Donnell said. Details can be found at www.berkeleyhumane.org.