An emotional video shows a “joyful” reunion between a survivor of one of the powerful earthquakes that hit Turkey last month and the pet cat that saved her life.
Rumeysa Gürbüz was at home asleep on February 6 in the city of Iskenderun on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the region. The quake—one of the strongest ever recorded in the Levant region—and subsequent powerful aftershocks caused significant damage in Iskenderun.
The hospital where Gürbüz worked as a nurse was destroyed with many of her colleagues dying while on watch. Her home also completely collapsed as a result of the quake.
Fortunately, her beloved pet cat Leyla woke her up 15 minutes before the earthquake struck, enabling her to escape. When the quake hit, Gürbüz jumped out the window of her home, injuring her legs.
Rumeysa Gürbüz (left) and Leyla the cat at their reunion alongside Kelly Donithan from Humane Society International. Leyla woke up Gürbüz 15 minutes before the earthquake struck Turkey. Humane Society International
“If I hadn’t woken up, I would have been in the wreckage,” Gürbüz said in comments provided to Newsweek by animal welfare nonprofit Humane Society International (HSI). “I owe her a lot. We are alive, there is hope.”
HSI has teams on the ground in Turkey working to help rescue and care for animals trapped in buildings or displaced in the streets. Field clinics where the nonprofit is working have treated hundreds of animals suffering cuts and bruises, infections, shock, dehydration and malnutrition.
Additionally, HSI teams have been responding to pleas for help from locals desperate to find their lost pets. In some cases, HSI has managed to track down the animals and reunite them with their owners, as was the case with Gürbüz and Leyla.
After being injured in the quake, Gürbüz was evacuated to Istanbul. But she posted a plea on Facebook in a desperate attempt to find Leyla. HSI saw the post and began searching for the cat but initially was unsuccessful.
“Rumeysa’s house was completely collapsed, but we knew where it was so that’s where HSI’s team searched,” HSI spokesperson Wendy Higgins told Newsweek. “Our team searched several times for Leyla, but she was too nervous to come out, we guess, and there was no sign of her.”
Kelly Donithan, HSI’s director of animal disaster response who was helping to locate Leyla, asked Gürbüz to send her a voice message calling the pet’s name in an attempt to lure the cat out. After a lot of patience, the trick worked and the terrified pet finally emerged from the wreckage.
“[There were] lots of happy purrs from Leyla once she was safe,” Higgins said.
Upon hearing the good news, Gürbüz traveled back from Istanbul—with both of her legs in casts—to a veterinary field clinic where HSI is working to the south of Iskenderun. There she was reunited with her pet in a “joyful” meeting, which was captured on video.
Leyla the cat at a field clinic after the earthquake in Turkey. The cat has been reunited with her owner. Humane Society International
“Meeting Rumeysa and reuniting her with her beautiful Leyla was one of the most moving experiences of my time in Türkiye,” Donithan told Newsweek. “Rumeysa clearly adores Leyla, and when you hear her story of how Leyla woke her on the day the earthquake struck, it’s not hard to see why she was so thrilled to hear the news that Leyla was alive and well.
“We had a very tearful but joyful reunion event at the field hospital where HSI’s team is based, and it was heartwarming to see Rumeysa and Leyla sharing a much-needed hug. These reunions mean so much to the victims of the earthquake who have lost so much, and it is an honor to be a part of making that happen. Every life saved from the devastation is precious.”
HSI also managed to reunite other beloved pets with their owners. Among them is a cat named Fluffy who was trapped in an apartment building.
“HSI used a drone to look for Fluffy after the military alerted us to hearing a meow,” Higgins said. “Working with a drone operator who was in the area, Kelly Donithan was able to see where Fluffy was trapped in a third-floor apartment of an unsteady building. With the assistance of the military and Kelly’s expert animal handling advice, the rescue was a success.
“Fluffy was not microchipped, but a search of the family name that the team had spotted on the entrance of the apartment building revealed the owner who the team was able to reach. Two family members came to collect Fluffy in an emotional reunion. Fluffy’s kidneys were impaired from dehydration, but she is on the mend.”
Another case involves a young kitten named Mezza, who was saved by HSI and reunited with owner Ali.
“Thankfully, Ali and his family members made it out of the earthquake, but their kitten was too scared, hiding and not able to be found,” Higgins said. “HSI set a trap to catch Mezza and finally had success. Ali and Mezza were reunited.”
Most of the pets that HSI has rescued, retrieved or treated have been dogs and cats. But Wiggins said other animals are also waiting to be reunited with their owners, including a goldfish and some pet pigeons.
Donithan said it is hard to estimate how many animals have been impacted by the earthquakes that have caused widespread destruction across parts of Turkey and Syria, but the numbers are “certainly high.”
The scale of the human toll is clearer. More than 53,000 deaths have been confirmed in Turkey and Syria as a result of the earthquakes, making the event one of the deadliest natural disasters of the 21st century.
Tens of thousands of people from countries around the world have joined rescue and response efforts.