Whiskered to safety: Prila rescue brings tears after devastating fire

It was a quiet rescue, that began with a whimpered “meow.”

Columbus Fire Department Public Information Officer Mike Wilson had been working with staff members of Arnholt and Staggs Law Office at 422 Fifth St. since the weekend, trying to find their missing office cat “Prila,” who was inside the office when a large fire broke out in the building at 11:50 p.m. Saturday.

Office Manager Debbie Spurgeon had been searching the site around the blocked-off building since Sunday, saying she was convinced that Prila was scared and still hiding in the office.

Wilson said firefighters had searched for the cat in the early morning hours after the fire, and the days following, with Wilson himself poking his head into the office Tuesday morning again trying to locate the cat.

The city has condemned the building and ordered that individuals stay out due to the possibility of a collapse, caused by extensive fire damage and the weight of the water that was poured on the building for hours early Sunday morning.

However, at Spurgeon’s plea for help, Wilson returned Tuesday afternoon carrying cat food and a litter box and agreed to try to see if Prila would appear if he brought the items into the doorway of the building. Earlier, Wilson had been hesitant to try again, saying both the back and front doors of the office were open Sunday morning as firefighters worked and they were fairly sure that Prila had made a run for it along with another office cat that escaped and was rescued at the fire scene.

But as everyone knows, that “nine lives” thing for cats is always in play, and Spurgeon passionately believed Prila, who is about 14 years old, would never leave the office, no matter the horrific conditions of fire, smoke and pouring water around her.

“I have been with her all these years (since 2014) and I knew she wouldn’t go out the door,” Spurgeon said. “I knew she was in the office.”

As Wilson took the items to the office door, behind the safety line, Spurgeon was shaking a box of Prila’s favorite cat treats.

“I was standing there quietly listening, and I heard what I thought was a faint ‘meow,’ Wilson said. “At first it startled me.”

So he ventured a bit further into the office with the bag of food in his hand and called out, “Prila.”

“I heard another ‘meow’ and there she was at my feet,” Wilson said.

Prila was seemingly no the worse for wear after surviving a six-alarm fire. Wilson carefully picked her up and walked out to hand her to Spurgeon, who dissolved into tears.

“It’s such a relief, I knew she was alive,” Spurgeon said of her reaction to seeing her beloved cat. “She sat on my desk all day — she’s really my best friend. I gripe at her all the time, and she listens.”

Spurgeon said when they got Prila to her house, the cat settled in with Spurgeon’s husband and began to eat quite a bit of food and treats. Prila was purring and eating enthusiastically as the couple prepared to go to Indianapolis to have her checked out by a vet.

“She did smell bad,” Spurgeon said of the calico cat who the Columbus community was hoping would be found safe.

Spurgeon said she appreciated what Wilson had done to find Prila and return the cat to the office staff, who lost everything in that office to the fire, but they didn’t lose Prila.

“Out of all the rescues, it was nice to provide her with that moment,” Wilson said. “That was good.”

Photo provided This is a photo of a missing cat from a law office located in the 422 Fifth St. building. The cat’s name is Prila. It is unknown if she escaped from the building but if you come across her in downtown Columbus, please contact the Columbus Fire Department or Animal Control so she can be returned to her owners.