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Sayville owners reunited with cat after Sunrise Village fire

Joan Wallace, right, and her husband, Donald Koch,

Joan Wallace, right, and her husband, Donald Koch, with Juno, held by Christine Jaklitsch, on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Wallace and Koch survived a March 6 fire at the Sunrise Village adult community in Sayville. Jaklitsch reunited the cat with his owners. Credit: Ed Betz

Juno, a cat missing since a March 6 fire in Sayville that killed a 90-year-old woman, was found unharmed Friday and has been returned to his owners.

The 5-year-old shorthair and “parents” Donald Koch and his wife, Joan K. Wallace, are happy to be reunited.

“It’s a miracle,” said Koch, 69, in an interview Sunday morning. The couple has been staying at a hotel in Holtsville since the blaze that killed a neighbor, Elizabeth M. Sclafani.

Koch and Wallace live in the condo next door to Sclafani’s in the Sunrise Village adult community. Wallace said the fire that ripped through Sclafani’s home spread through a wall into the couple’s unit and their “whole roof is gone and the bedroom is gone.”

Fire officials could not be reached Sunday to ask about the cause of the early morning fire, but Wallace said it is believed the blaze was electrical in nature. She said Juno got spooked during the commotion and ran out of their home.

“We’re so happy to have found him — and before the snowstorm — he never would have made it through that,” said Wallace, a retired medical lab technician at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown.

Wallace said Juno was found thanks to the efforts of Christine Jaklitsch of West Sayville, who said she read about Juno going missing in a Newsday article about the fire that included the phone number for Koch and Wallace in case someone found the cat.

Jaklitsch, a self-described animal lover with several cats of her own, called the couple and immediately went into action. She posted fliers about Juno, put out food to attract him and set a humane trap that captured Juno on the back porch of the couple’s home. Koch discovered Juno in the trap about 8 a.m. Friday.

“He was very frightened and just crying and crying,” Wallace said of Juno. “He was a little bit dirty, with scrapes on his nose and forehead, and he had lost weight, but he was in pretty good condition.”

Wallace said she was particularly worried about Juno since he’s not used to being out and about.

“He’s never been outside before — it was a first for him,” Wallace said.

Something else is new to Juno’s personality, said Koch, a retired general manager for the Advanced Structures door company in Deer Park.

“He’s a lot closer to me,” Koch said. “He’s being more affectionate and sleeping on my chest at night — he’s never done that before.”

Wallace added, “I think he’s glad to be back. She said she and Koch are grateful to Jaklitsch, adding, “She got the whole thing going [to find Juno].”

Jaklitsch, 54, an assistant intergovernmental relations coordinator for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, said she was more than happy to be of help because she felt bad for the couple. They will have to wait months for their home to be repaired.

Wallace and Koch took Jaklitsch through their home to see the damage and Jaklitsch said she cried at what she saw.

“It brought me to tears — they lost everything,” Jaklitsch said. “At least they can be reunited with their pet. Sometimes you have a happy ending and sometimes you don’t.”

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