Hero cat saves owner from fire

February 24, 2014

Crawford, Ga, which is a little more than 14 miles east of Athens, has a population of just over 800, eleven churches, and one traffic light. Small Town, USA, personified.

It is a quiet, laid-back community whose main distinction is that it is anchored on the main road (U.S. 78) from Athens to Augusta. People passing through Crawford probably don’t know its link to history. There are no signs boasting that the town is named for William H. Crawford, who nearly became a candidate for the presidency. His accomplishments were something to write home about. He was U.S. Minister to France, Secretary of War, and Secretary of the Treasury. On top of that, he had a hand in having the Monroe Doctrine amended.

There are other luminaries — including three Georgia governors, Wilson Lumpkin, George R. Gilmer, and George Mathews — who have resided in Crawford or nearby. Joseph H. Lumpkin, the co-founder of the University of Georgia School of Law, which carries his name, hung out here in the past. Few people other than historians are aware that Meriwether Lewis, half of the Lewis and Clark team — which made, perhaps, the most important expedition in history of this country — was once a resident.

Felix the cat is also a Crawford resident. Not likely that anybody other than Billy Bryant and his close friends would know that. We aren’t talking about Felix the Cat of Hollywood fame but rather Billy’s life-saving feline friend. Felix, knowing that his master had only one life, made sure Billy knew his house was on fire a few weeks ago. A widower who lives alone, Billy has always “been a dog man,” but when his wife, Carolyn, died, his grandkids gave Felix to Billy to keep him company.

Billy and Felix hit it off from the beginning. Every night when Billy watches TV, Felix rests affectionately in his lap. They are constant companions during the day, but when it is time to retire, Billy puts Felix outside where he sleeps in a doghouse right near Billy’s bedroom window. This routine has been going on for years.

It was 5 a.m. one morning recently, just before Billy would be starting his day, when Felix was suddenly clawing and screaming outside Billy’s bedroom window. “It sounded like a bobcat, he was so loud,” Billy says. Billy first thought that some varmint had Felix in his grasp, but he immediately began coughing and choking. In an instant, he knew what was going on — his house was on fire. Rushing to get outside, Billy stumbled and fell in the dark a couple of times. He can hardly remember the details but luckily grabbed his cell phone from the charger which sits on a table by the door.

He called 911, and the volunteer fire department showed up immediately. They were able to save the house, although smoke and water damage was severe. The fire inspector told Billy that the fire started in his den, and the cause was faulty wiring in the house, which Billy built in the early fifties.

“I had always heard that cats were very intelligent,” Billy says. “Now I know for sure that Felix is very smart.” It is one of the most interesting stories you can imagine. That the cat knew the house was on fire, that his master was asleep and needed to be awakened, that Billy’s bed was next to the window. Felix had to know all this for the events to unfold as they did.

Felix is now a hero of major status among Billy’s friends. Felix belongs in the pantheon of the other Oglethorpe residents who have distinguished themselves. Felix ought to get a proclamation from the mayor. How about a parade or a citation from the governor?

Billy has been thinking of doing something special for Felix, whose favorite food is Purina Cat Chow. For years he has been filling Felix’s bowl with Purina products. In the days after being rescued by Felix’s considerable commotion, Billy was telling some of his friends that he thought it might be nice to buy a can of sardines for Felix. Said one of his friends, “If you really want to do something nice for the cat who saved your life, you ought to buy him lobster.”

I have an idea that Felix is in for the most well-deserved treat of his life. Billy Bryant is not likely to experience nine lives, but he will be forever grateful to Felix for extending the one he enjoys today.