Twelve years ago, Teresa Bernola's three daughters begged their mom for a pet, promising that they'd take care of it. "It was right after my divorce and I was trying to make things easier for my girls any way I could," says Teresa, 53. At the shelter, the kids chose a calico named Mona, who settled into life at the family's Burgettstown, PA, home.
But the girls' promises didn't last, and as the years passed Teresa gave up nagging them to feed Mona and change her litter box; she just did it herself. Her "reward"? Mona's constant attention. The cat shadowed Teresa wherever she went. "I couldn't even go into the bathroom without Mona at my feet," she says. And every so often, when all the feeding, cleaning and near-tripping became burdensome, Teresa would tell her girls, "If you don't want to take care of Mona, let's give her to someone who does."
But on April 11, 2011, Teresa, who works as an airport gate agent, nodded off while watching the news. She was still asleep on the sofa at 2 A.M. when she felt Mona swipe at her face. "Go to sleep, Mona," she murmured, nestling down into the cushions. A minute later the cat pawed Teresa harder. "That's when I opened my eyes and saw smoke pouring in from the kitchen."
Teresa jolted up, her only thought, Get out! In a stroke of luck, Teresa's youngest daughters, ages 18 and 16, who still live at home, were spending the night at their dad's. Mona's wakeup call gave Teresa just enough time to slip on her shoes, grab her purse and get the cat before dashing outside.
She fumbled with her car keys, her hands shaking, before climbing inside her car and calling 911 on her cell phone. With Mona meowing beside her, Teresa watched smoke spill from the eaves and an orange glow light the windows. "I was shaking and crying because it finally hit me: If it hadn't been for Mona I don't know when, or if, I would have woken up," she says.
The fire, caused by faulty wiring, destroyed the first floor. The wreckage the next day "looked like a tornado had gone through," says Teresa. It took six months to repair the damage.
Today, Teresa and her girls are back home, and Mona is up to her old tricks, padding alongside Teresa everywhere. Needless to say, there's no more talk of giving her away. "Maybe Mona knew that one day I'd need help, and she had to be there right next to me," says Teresa. "I thank God that she was."
Melody Warnick is a writer in Austin, Texas.
What's Your Pet Tale? Tell us your pet story atand you could appear in a future issue of WD. (Type "Pet Tales" in the subject line.)