NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. - Brian Young gave his cat Berkeley a hearty scratch on the back and a few extra cans of tuna after the hungry feline awakened him just before a fire raced through his home, leaving little time to get his family out.
Young, a former Nova Scotia politician who lives with his wife and two adult sons in North Sydney, said the cat woke him up Monday at about 5 a.m., mewing to be fed and let outside.
Young said he fed the eight-year-old tabby some of the tuna he keeps in the fridge for him, let him out and returned to bed where he drifted off to sleep before waking up to a whooshing sound of flames and the crackling of burning floorboards about an hour or so later.
He said he went downstairs to find flames and smoke rolling off the kitchen ceiling and rushed his wife and son out of the house while calling 911 as the fast-moving fire destroyed part of the home.
"I got to the bottom of the stairs and looked and there was a wall of flame and I screamed, 'Oh my God,'" Young said from the hotel where he and his family are staying.
"But we all got out safely and the cat is safe."
Berkeley, a stray who appeared at their home as a scrawny kitten eight years ago, took off after the fire but has since returned and is being cared for by a neighbour until the family determines what will happen to their home.
Young, who served in the Progressive Conservative governments of former premiers John Buchanan and Donald Cameron, credits the cat with getting him up, preventing him from falling back into a deep sleep after that.
He said a couple of people at the local mall had heard the story and their first question was, "Did you find your cat?"
Young said the hefty brown cat, known for its six toes on each paw, was a little miffed by the whole ordeal.
"He showed up and he was really put out because his house had been burned and his regular haunts were gone," he said with a laugh. "We got him staying with a neighbour and they're feeding him tuna as well, so he's happy with that."
He said the fire engulfed the deck and went into the kitchen wall, forcing firefighters to poke holes in the roof to try to extinguish it. But he said the blaze left a big hole where the dining room and kitchen once were.
Young, 64, said it's not clear whether they can salvage their home. He said they may have lost many of their possessions, including memorabilia from his daughter Carmen who died in 1992 after an unsuccessful double lung transplant.
"That's life — you can't predict it, you can't control it, you just have to roll with the punches," he said.