Bob and Kathy Benoit lost virtually every valuable they owned when their home at 23 Countryside Rd. was in a raging fire.
But they are most anguished about three treasures they lost that they consider priceless: their two shih tzu dogs, siblings Emmie and Benji, and their cat, Grey.
With support from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the family is fighting to have charges of animal cruelty added to the case against the alleged arsonist, who reportedly was infatuated with the Benoits’ daughter.
“They did nothing but give unconditional love,’’ Bob Benoit said of his beloved pets. “We want this for them.’’
The animals were his first thought when he got word at his company, The Print Centre in Needham, that his home was on fire.
Knowing that no one was in the home that time of day, he asked a neighbor to break in and rescue the pets. But the intense smoke and heat drove the man back.
While the house was still smoldering, Joseph E. Mullen, 29, of 27 Stowe Rd., Grafton, was
He was denied bail and was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he is still being held. He is scheduled to return to Westborough District Court Feb. 13, according to Timothy Connolly, spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early.
Mullen allegedly broke into the home, poured gasoline on a couch and set it ablaze, according to court documents.
The dogs were contained in a room and apparently succumbed to smoke inhalation. The cat was not found.
Kathy Benoit loved the dogs so much that she cannot talk about them. She was known in the neighborhood for the regular walks she took with the pair.
Emmie slept at Bob Benoit's side and “snored like a drunken sailor,’’ he said, chuckling in the midst of an emotional conversation. Benji was “attached to my wife’s ankles,’’ he said.
“Everybody loved them,’’ he said.
The two dogs, who spent their last agonizing moments together, were inseparable, he said. Grey would knock treats off the counter for the dogs, and the three would romp around the house together.
A second cat, officially named Carmen but now known as the Miracle Cat, was found alive, four hours after the blaze. The cat was apparently hiding in the basement the entire time.
Building Inspector Robert Berger brought the cat into an ambulance and helped give the feline much-needed oxygen before the animal could be brought to the at the
Having Carmen survive was “wonderful,’’ Benoit said. “She’s one of the only things from our past that we have.’’
His dogs weren’t so lucky. An excavator friend helped dig a grave as a final resting place for the dogs who greeted Benoit at the door every day when he returned from work.
Benoit wrapped each dog in one of his shirts before laying them to rest.
“That was the hardest day of my life,’’ he said.
He visits the grave every day. While he is there, he calls for Grey. The cat's remains were never found, so he hopes for a second miracle.
If that does not happen, he is sorry he was unable to provide Grey with "the burial that he deserves.''
Benoit is angry that the man charged with setting the fire knew there were pets inside and heard the dogs barking.
With support from family and friends, the Benoits are working on an effort to gather signatures urging that animal cruelty be added to the charges. A website is being created for this purpose.
There are criminal charges of animal cruelty that can be filed in certain circumstances, Connolly said. He does not know if they will be filed in this case, he said. "We have to evaluate the facts,'' he said.
Benoit hopes to get two more dogs when his home is rebuilt. But they will never replace Emmie and Benji, he said. Nothing could.
“Our kids were grown and out of the house,’’ he said. “They were our kids.’’