The shy feline woke up owner Josh Ornberg by jumping on his lap

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated January 22, 2010 06:00 PM

Baby the cat was never known for her outgoing personality, but when her family’s suburban Chicago house caught fire late Sunday night the 13-year-old tabby made herself the center of attention when it counted most. She is credited with saving the lives of owners Josh Ornberg and girlfriend Letitia Kovalovsky, who is seven months pregnant with twins.

“She’s a hero,” Ornberg tells “It’s kind of embarrassing that I needed my cat to wake me up, but she was my fire detector.”

Ornberg says he and his girlfriend had fallen asleep on the living room couch inside their Wonder Lake, Ill., home Sunday night, when he awoke, startled by Baby.

“She’s usually not a very social cat, but she jumped on my lap and was jumping around I assume to wake me up,” recalls Ornberg. “And when I did wake up I noticed the house was filling with smoke.”

He discovered the source of the blaze in the back bedroom, and although he tried to extinguish the flames, the fire was already too big for him to handle alone. Instead, Kovalovsky called 911 and they fled the house until help arrived.

Wonder Lake Fire Protection Assistant Chief Mike Weber was first on the scene to see “flames at the back window going about 10 feet up in the air.” Firefighters put out the blaze, but the house was declared temporarily uninhabitable, and nearly all their possessions – including the twin cribs they had just assembled – were destroyed. Weber says the fire is “not suspicious, but under investigation.”

Weber points out that if not for Baby’s swift action, the circumstances could have become much worse. “She was definitely the hero in this situation. We don’t know what the outcome would have been if not for the cat,” he says.

Despite her hero status, Baby was MIA after the blaze, and her family worried about her safety. “She was the first one out the door. I saw her run away,” says Ornberg.

For a day and a half there was no sign of Baby, but she re-emerged Tuesday afternoon, lured by one of her favorite foods: tuna fish. Ornberg had set a live trap near the house with some tuna inside; a friend called Tuesday afternoon to say Baby was safe and sound inside.

Now, Baby is resting comfortably with her family – including fellow pet Blackjack, a Bernese mountain dog – in a local hotel as they figure out where they will stay as their home undergoes extensive repairs.

Ornberg says they bought Baby several kitty treats to thank her for her good deed, and he’s noticed a bit of spring in her step since the fire.

“She was in the hotel jumping on the bed and playing last night,” says Ornberg. “She has a different attitude now.”

How to Help
The Wonder Lake Firefighters Association is collecting donations to assist the family. Contributions can be mailed to P.O. Box 447, Wonder Lake, IL 60097.