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Woman was devoted to pets lost in home fire

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Stacy Vogel
July 1, 2009

When Tami Babcock learned all but one of her beloved pets died in a fire June 24, her cries were so loud they drew the employees of a nearby dental office to console her.


Now, all that's left of her award-winning beagles are smoky photo albums. Fifteen dogs, including five puppies, and three cats died in the fire that destroyed her house at 507 W. Sunny Lane, Rock Township.


One cat, Jimmy, survived after firefighters administered oxygen to it.


"They were all my pets," Babcock said a few days later, still in shock as she sat on her aunt's couch. "Some of them just happened to go to shows on the weekend."


Babcock's world revolved around animals, friends and family say. Though Babcock admits her house was a bit chaotic with 10 adult dogs and four cats, her story is very different from those of dog hoarders or puppy-mill breeders, they said.


"This has got to be such a devastating loss for her, because her world has been dogs," said Alice Hessenauer, secretary of the Janesville Beloit Kennel Club. "They were exceedingly well taken care of and loved by her."


Babcock, 48, can't remember a time when she wasn't around dogs. Her parents always joked she was "baptized by a dog," she said.


Her aunt Sharon Grieves introduced her to dog showing when she was about 18, and she fell in love with the beagle breed, she said. She looked through photo albums with friends and family Friday, remembering the dogs she has shown over the last 30 years.


One of her dogs, Galley, was named the No. 2 13-inch beagle in the nation in the 1980s.


Babcock bred dogs every two or three years but made little money from it, partly because of the expense involved in proper breeding and partly because of her tendency to keep the dogs if she couldn't find top-notch homes for them, she said.


"You have to breed with the understanding that if you can't find a home for them that's as good or better than yours, you have to be prepared to keep those dogs," she said.


The five puppies in her home at the time of the fire were five weeks old.


"Their eyes had just opened," she said.


The day of the fire, Babcock left early for her business, Waggin' Tails Dog Grooming in Beloit, so she could run an errand for a beagle show she was planning later in the week. She heard a phone ring at work but couldn't answer it because she had a dog in the tub.


Officials still are investigating the cause of the fire, but Babcock was told it could have been electrical, she said.


She and Jimmy, the cat, have moved into Grieves' home for now. She hasn't decided if she will own dogs again in the future, she said.


"Right now, it's the cat," she said. "I've just got to make sure he's OK."


She and her family said they were grateful to the firefighters on the scene who saved Jimmy, tried to save the other animals and consoled upset family members.


"It really brings the best of people out when something like this happens," said Julie Kern, another of Babcock's aunts.


Animal care was foremost concern for pet owner

Local people who show and breed dogs form a tight-knit community, and they all know Tami Babcock, friends and family said.


So they bristled when a Rock County Humane Society employee implied Babcock was keeping too many dogs in too small an area after her house burned down June 24, killing 15 dogs and three cats.


A group of "dog people" and several members of Babcock's family gathered at the home she's staying at to console her Friday. They joked that anyone can see how well Babcock cared for her animals by looking at Jimmy, a large and obviously well-fed cat that survived the fire.


"When I die, I want to come back as one of Tami's dogs," said JoAnn Broder, a dog groomer from Rockford.


Friends and family say Babcock would do anything to make an animal comfortable. All four of her cats were strays Babcock or her mother, Pat Mehls, found on the side of the road or dumped on Mehls' doorstep.


The day of the fire, Babcock and her aunt Julie Kern were making a food run when a beagle ran across the street.


"I had to slam on the brakes because she was already out the door" to get the dog, Kern said. Babcock returned the dog to its owner.


Ironically, Babcock and other volunteers from Waggin' Tails Dog Grooming cleaned and shaved huskies after 44 filthy Siberian huskies were found at another house in Rock Township in 2006. Babcock also has raised money for the humane society and taken in animals from the shelter, family members said.


The humane society employee, Jim Hurley, made his comment based on concern from authorities on the scene, said Angela Rhodes, who took over as executive director in February. She thinks officials might have assumed there was a problem based on the number of dogs before they knew all the details, she said.


"We haven't heard another peep about it," she said. "From everything I heard, she took very good care of (the animals) and was very legitimate in doing so."


The humane society does not endorse a certain limit on pets, Rhodes said.


"I don't think that addresses the issue because you can have a person who has a dozen dogs or cats and is caring for them properly or someone who has one animal and isn't doing right by it," she said.


Fire recovery


Tami Babcock's family has set up a fund at First American Credit Union to help pay for expenses after she lost her home in a fire June 24. Branches are located at 2525 Milton Ave., Janesville; 1982 Cranston Road, Beloit; 746 Fourth St., Beloit; and 769 N. Blackhawk Boulevard, Rockton, Ill.


Checks should be made out to "Tami Babcock Donation Fund" or First American Credit Union.


For more information, call 1-800-776-7159.



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