Fire roared through one three-decker and leapt to another and another, and smoke and flame began to overtake the apartment where Modupe Oshikoya’s constant companion, a cat named Rosie, was trapped.
That night two weeks ago, a firefighter spotted the limp animal among the chaos, scooped her up, and brought her to safety. An emergency medical technician put an oxygen mask over her face and revived her. The firefighter lifted the cat into the cab of a fire truck, where it would be safe until reunited with her owner, a student who had come from London just months before.
That is where a story like this is supposed to end.
But more than a hundred firefighters clogged the streets around the Dorchester fire and hoses snaked across the pavement. Somewhere in the night, a firefighter opened the door of the truck and Rosie bolted into the dark.
“I gave up my job. I gave up my flat in London. I brought her here with me,” said a tearful Oshikoya, in the midst of her desperate search for her beloved feline.
Oshikoya, a native Londoner, got Rosie more than four years ago after seeing her on an Internet site for rescued animals. The cat reminded her of one from her childhood. At the London rescue center, a worker told her that Rosie had been bullied by the other felines and desperately needed to find a safe home.
“When I first got her, she barely ate,’’ Oshikoya said. “It was a long process to get her to trust me.”
In August, Oshikoya left her job as a researcher at the House of Commons to get a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She initially left Rosie behind in London, but sent for her in October.
Each day Oshikoya returned home from school, Rosie would come running.
That did not happen on March 27, when a cigarette ignited a three-decker near Ronan Park in the Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester. Oshikoya was at school toiling over an essay. She came home after the blaze was extinguished to the mobs of firefighters and the smell of burnt siding and asphalt shingles.
“My cat’s in there,’’ she recalled saying to a firefighter, who had been helping residents safely enter their charred homes to retrieve whatever was salvageable. No one was injured in the fire.
Oshikoya said she asked another firefighter whether he had seen her cat. The cat was fine, he assured her. Oshikoya sighed in relief.
The next few hours were a blur. Oshikoya went to the Holland School, where displaced residents were given shelter. But she could not stop worrying. Late that night, she asked a firefighter assisting victims, and he told her of Rosie’s rescue and escape.
For two weeks, Oshikoya was overcome with worry: Is Rosie hungry? Is she alive? Can she survive the streets of Dorchester where feral cats roam?
“She’s probably really scared,’’ Oshikoya said as the week began. “She’s very much a people ‘person’ and I’m not sure if she would have the instinct to survive.”
Oshikoya returned to where Rosie was last seen at Reverend Allen Park on Meetinghouse Hill. On the first day of her search, she and a friend looked along nearby streets, peeking under cars, through hedges, and over fencing into yards, calling out “Rosie!”
Last week she had to leave for Plymouth, where the family of a fellow UMass doctoral student offered her a place to stay.
She and her friends returned Wednesday and put up posters in the neighborhood. Around nightfall, William Boulware saw a ginger-colored cat sitting under a porch on Wilkinson Park, not far from where Rosie was last seen. He called out to her a few times, and she came easily, meowing.
“She was a cute little cat,’’ said Boulware. “I said, ‘I hope you are Rosie.’”
He put her in his coat and called the number on the poster. An ecstatic Oshikoya rushed over and took Rosie to a veterinary emergency room.
Rosie was severely dehydrated and half her usual weight, said Dr. Lily Johnson, who treated Rosie at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in South Weymouth.
But other than that, she was OK.
“She was purring up a storm, although she has been through so much,’’ said Johnson. “She was very lucky.”
Rosie spent the night at the hospital hooked to an IV. And Thursday, after her two-week ordeal, she finally went home.