When Courtney Bullock’s Sullivan Boulevard house burned down, she lost much more than her home: she lost her pets.
Nevada, a 9-month old husky, and Boss, a 3-year-old cat, died in the Jan. 22 fire from smoke inhalation, Bullock said.
Bullock, 23, moved into the house, located at 4932 Sullivan Blvd., on Dec. 6, 2016 after answering Monica Lamping’s Craigslist ad for a roommate. The pair hit it off, sharing a love for animals and children.
“She was so perfect,” Bullock said. “Like the perfect fit. She didn’t mind if I brought my cat and my dog.”
Lamping was reported missing the day of the fire, along with her seven-year-old son, Kai, and nine-month-old daughter, Oria. The family was found safe on Jan. 25 at a North Carolina “off-the-grid” commune, Bullock said.
“I know she tried to live in (a commune) back when Kai was three … but I didn’t know anything about her wanting to do it again,” Bullock said, adding that she hasn’t spoken to Lamping since she was found.
While Bullock is relieved Lamping and the kids are safe, she’s now left to grieve her “furbabies.”
Bullock found out about the fire on the morning of Jan. 22 while she was working a cashier shift at the Virginia Beach Field House. A coworker told her she had an emergency phone call at the front desk. It was Lamping’s mother, informing Bullock that Nevada and Boss were dead.
“I went to my knees crying,” Bullock said. “They were more than a cat and a dog. They were alive, and someone loved them.”
Bullock remembers getting Nevada in the summer of 2016 when the pup was two months old. She visited a pet store at Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake with the intention of just checking out the animals.
Then she heard Nevada crying alone. Pet store employees told Bullock the pup’s litter-mate had just been adopted.
“I went home with a puppy that day,” Bullock said. “She was so energetic and so sweet. There wasn’t a single person, or kid or animal that she didn’t like. Nevada made friends everywhere.”
Bullock said her blue-eyed husky loved the beach. She dug holes in the sand, near the shoreline. When the waves splashed over them, filling the holes with new sand, the determined pup would start to dig again.
Nevada got along very well with Kai and the other children Lamping babysat in her home. The pup was gentle and kind with the children, but wouldn’t hesitate to steal their snacks if given the chance.
Boss was the newest addition to Bullock’s family. She adopted him about two weeks before the fire.
Bullock got Boss from a woman she met on Facebook who was pregnant and developed an allergy to cats. Bullock wasn’t looking for a new animal — she already had Nevada and another cat, Pandora, who survived the fire — but Boss stole her heart.
“I connected with him instantly,” she said. “Such a special cat.”
Bullock described Boss as a “big, fat, white cat” who had six toes on each front paw, giving him the appearance of wearing mittens. He slept on her pillow at night and gave her headbutts as a sign of affection.
“I think that cat was meant to be with me,” Bullock said.
One of the best qualities Lamping had as a roommate was her love for Bullock’s animals. She let Nevada out of her crate during the day and took her outside. She also didn’t mind keeping watch over the animals when Bullock spent the night at her boyfriend’s home.
Around 6 p.m. on Jan. 21, hours before the fire, Lamping texted Bullock and asked her if she’d be home that night. Bullock didn’t respond to the text, but intended to go back to the house because she’d stayed at her boyfriend’s home the night before.
Around midnight on Jan. 22, Bullock decided to stay at her boyfriend’s house again because she was tired and needed to get up at 5 a.m. for work.
She said the decision probably saved her life.
Bullock is a heavy sleeper. She’s convinced that if she’d been at the house, she would have slept through the fire and died alongside her pets.
“It’s really scary to think that that decision I made last minute saved my life,” she said. “I have mom guilt because I hadn’t seen them since Friday night.”
Lamping and her children weren’t at the home at the time of the fire. Her car was spotted traveling through the Portsmouth Downtown Tunnel around 2 a.m on Sunday, about an hour and a half before the fire began.
On Thursday, the Virginia Beach Fire Department issued a news release that said the fire was started by a space heater. Bullock said the space heater was in Lamping’s bedroom, but believes it was left on by accident.
She doesn’t believe Lamping would have left the heater on knowingly while the animals were inside the house, including Lamping’s own cat, Kenji.
“Kai considers that cat his second brother,” Bullock said, adding that Kenji survived the fire.
Still, without talking to Lamping about her reasons for leaving, Bullock is finding it hard to find closure.
“I acknowledge that I’m suppressing a lot of my emotions about this because I’m still trying to figure out how to feel about them in an appropriate way,” Bullock said. “I need to know what happened because I don’t want to have to blame her, and I’m not blaming her … I want someone to tell me something — just enough — because her actions caused the death of my two babies.”
Bullock said she wants to take time to grieve the loss of Nevada and Boss before adopting new pets.
“I’ve got my Pandora and my boyfriend’s cat Star,” she said. “I have enough love from all my family, and friends and the furbabies that I have right now to try and help me get through this.”
Mayfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.