Philadelphia Emergency Animal Rescue Team Assists in Search for Ryce, 1 of Missing Cats from East Village Fire

red_paw_emergency_relief_team_philadelphia_logAdditional Photos added 4/23

The search for Ryce got the help last week of a Philadelphia-based emergency Animal Response team, unlike any in the country. Jennifer Leary, who founded Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, after being a Philadelphia fire fighter for seven years and a disaster responder for the American Red Cross for nine years, has set up a unique entity which operates primarily in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, and has plans to expand across the country. The organization works closely with Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Red Cross and other agencies there. Red Paw offered its services to New York City in looking for missing cat, Ryce, believed to still be located in 125 Second Avenue.

Second Avenue
Explosion Site and 125 Second Avenue (boarded windows)

It is now almost four weeks since the explosion and fire that occurred on Thursday, March 26th; four cats remain missing and unaccounted for: Sylvie, Leather-Face, Sago, and Ryce.

This blog contacted Red Paw Emergency Relief Team for an interview and advice on the situation, and, in those discussions, founder Jen Leary offered to come to NYC with her team to help in the search for Ryce at 125 Second Avenue. 125 Second Avenue, impacted by the fire, is still intact, the other buildings, 119, 121, and 123, caught fire and were later (the next day) demolished.

NYC Agency Animal Search Efforts to Date at 125 Second Avenue

Ongoing efforts at 125 Second Avenue had been conducted by the ASPCA, reporting to the OEM (Office of Emergency Management), and working with the ACC (Animal Care & Control), primarily through looking around, the setting of humane traps in the building and powder (to detect foot prints) on the floor. There was resistance to trying to access thermal imaging camera/infrared scope and also to setting humane traps and wildlife cameras (can detect motion in the dark) outside. The ASPCA abruptly removed the humane traps from the building on Friday, April 9th, something Stuart and Kayoko Lipsky, Ryce’s owner-guardians, found out afterwards.

(Over the course of the agency involvement, the ASPCA had told residents there were no animals in the building after a quick sweep two days after the fire – within the next four days, four cats were found, two with the assistance of firefighters, the other two by the ASPCA under their guardian Kathleen Blomberg’s bed.)

The Lipskys were thrilled to have Red Paw Emergency Relief Team assist in the effort to find Ryce, working with the ACC (who deflected this to OEM which did not respond). It took a few days to make arrangements for the team to get access to the building with the help of the landlord.

View Outside 125 Second
View Last Week of Explosion Site Outside 125 Second Ave.

Searching for Ryce with Phila-based Red Paw Emergency Relief Team

When Red Paw Emergency Relief Team came to look for Ryce on Tuesday, April 14th, Jen Leary believed Ryce might still actually be in the apartment where she lived, deeply hiding. Jen and her team worked throughout the day and went through the entire building.

Jen wrote afterwards via email of their search, “Myself and one of my responders went to NYC and thoroughly searched Ryce’s apt. We tore it apart and had a thermal imaging camera (TIC) with us. She’s not in that apt. We then ‘searched’ all the other apartments with the landlord, who would only allow us to look around with the TIC. We weren’t allowed to touch anything, so there is a chance she’s in one of the other apartments but now that all the doors are locked, she won’t be able to get out.”

Kevin Thorne from Red Paw on the scene
Kevin Thorne from Red Paw on the scene

She continued, “They never run towards danger or noises! She’s got to be hiding somewhere we just couldn’t get to. But, we found no evidence anywhere that she’s in there; no feces anywhere, no smell of pee, no sign of food bags being torn into, nothing that we could see.”

How Thermal Imaging Detects Living Bodies
How Thermal Imaging Detects Living Bodies

The Red Paw founder said, “I wish we had been able to search sooner after the incident. The owner said he saw her run into her daughter’s room but couldn’t get her in time. She was probably hiding there for days. We’ve gone into big apartment buildings days after fires in the past and the cats are always frozen in their safe places hiding. They are going to start letting people back in, so hopefully she’ll appear eventually.”

The fact that there were no smells or signs makes me (continue to) wonder if Ryce could have escaped. There still has been no searching of the courtyards behind the buildings/125 Second Avenue for Ryce or any other of the cats (something I hope still will be done — preliminary research I conducted here). Lost cat expert Kim Freeman, had noted, that, in her experience, cats will not travel beyond 250 feet, even if a building is demolished.

This is Ryce with Muffin, his friend (window at Whiskers)
This is Ryce with Muffin, his friend (window at Whiskers)

Although it might seem like some time has gone by, Jen told me, “We’ve found cats a month after an incident and have heard of stories of cats being found alive in an apartment building after a fire almost two months later.”

As far as any situation like this, Jen said, “Firefighters have a job to do and aren’t necessarily looking for pets, landlords and owner are usually too frazzled and upset to see things correctly. In these situations, you really need trained people with emergency response, disaster relief and search & rescue background. … Hopefully, in the coming years Red Paw will be national, since it’s a service every community needs and fills a huge gap in the emergency response scene.”

Thank you to Jen Leary and Red Paw Emergency Relief Team for their assistance. What an invaluable resource for all cities to consider, especially a large one like NYC.

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Let’s not give up hope for the other animals!

Watch this great piece on Jen Leary as one of CNN Heroes:

Jen Leary CNN Hero

You can follow Red Paw on Twitter.

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Photos : Jen Leary
except bottom photo of Ryce/Muffin: Cathryn

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4 thoughts on “Philadelphia Emergency Animal Rescue Team Assists in Search for Ryce, 1 of Missing Cats from East Village Fire”

  1. Thank you Cathryn, you have been wonderful during this awful ordeal. You have not only covered this as a journalist but you have been hands on, helping us.
    Let us all hope that Red Paw goes National. I was extremely lucky to have gotten my cats back thanks to the FDNY. My heart breaks for the other lost pets and their people.
    New York City has got to make changes and soon.
    Yvonne Collery

  2. You are most welcome, Yvonne, and thanks for your comment.

    So glad you have your cats back. Hope we get some more resident/citizen (if not agency) action taken soon and additional good news.

    Yes, we need some changes in NYC for sure —


  3. Cathryn,

    I’m with Yvonne. You’ve done a great job covering the possibilities for finding the surviving “East Village Eight.” As we discussed over the phone, perhaps it’s possible to mobilize interested community members to hold a “Save the East Village Eight” weekend where we could go from one ground level apartment or business on the affected block to another asking for access to search for cats and lay traps or use the infrared scopes. We’d have to get the traps and scopes in advance, know how to operate them and of course, hope that residents are at home and/or willing to let us in. Perhaps we could get Red Paw to come back up to the East Village on that weekend. If anyone reading this likes this idea and is interested in joining, please add a comment to this page or email me, Stella, at Thanks!

  4. Thanks so much, Stella, for your words and initiative for the East Village Four (thankfully not 8!) and mobilization to find any others. Great overview of what needs to be done. I hope others will join in.

    Thank you!



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