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Public rallies behind Massachusetts animal shelter devastated by fire

The Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals shelter was ravaged by flames Sunday night. Five dogs were rescued and some cats may have escaped, as volunteers rallied support and supplies.

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Nearly all of the animals staying at Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals in Paxton, Mass., died in a fire Sunday night. The no-kill shelter is seeking funds to resume operations.

Screen grab from GoFundMe.com

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Dozens of cats and dogs were killed in a fire Sunday night at an animal shelter in central Massachusetts, prompting an outpouring of support and donations from the community.

Flames broke out at the Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals in Paxton, Mass., just before 11 p.m., and according to staffers, 17 dogs and 39 cats are thought to have perished – nearly all of the animal residents at the nonprofit, no-kill animal rescue operation.

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However, rescuers were able to save a handful of dogs.

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By 11:40 p.m., firefighters were able to extinguish most of the flames, and officials said they were able to save four or five dogs, mostly larger breeds. They are being treated for smoke inhalation.

While the firefighters were unable to rescue any cats, a staffer said some may have been able to escape.

“We were very fortunate to save just those,” Fire Chief Jay Conte told CBS Local. “The site was fully involved when we got here, so we didn’t think we were going to save any of the animals.”

He said the building is a total loss, and authorities are still unsure about what started the fire.

During the incident, Sweetpea used Facebook and Twitter to notify followers that the shelter had gone up in flames, pleading for volunteers and veterinarians to help. Many showed up with blankets and supplies. Paramedics were able to treat the rescued animals until veterinary technicians arrived.

As Kim Ring of the Worcester Telegram reported:

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“Volunteers gathered in the second building on the property, which was not affected by the fire. They sobbed as they tried to warm the dogs rescued from the burning building, holding them wrapped in blankets, and shared the names of the dogs that were lost.”

Sweetpea director Richard Clark said they will need a lot of help restoring services and operations. The shelter owns a second building on the street, but will need equipment to proceed. A wish list has been posted on Facebook that includes canned food, bowls, litter boxes, and toys.

The organization kicked off a GoFundMe campaign nine months ago and is still taking donations. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.