A terrible fire gutted the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society shelter last week. Staffers frantically worked hand-in-hand with firefighters to save as many animals as they could, rescuing 14 dogs and 10 cats. But 15 cats perished in the flames.

"We're devastated," said Jill Goodfriend, who leads the Humane Society's pet loss support groups. "Think how it felt when you lost your favorite pet, then multiply that by 15. Then multiply that by the trauma of the fire and the way they died, and you have a pretty good idea how we're feeling."

But a few days later, this letter arrived from two little girls:

"Me and my friend raised $10 by selling cupcakes and lemonade. We hope that this $10 will somehow make a difference. We are very sad about the fire in the shelter and hope you can make it. Love, Billie and Sofia."

Billie and Sofia typify the spirit that has swept the community since the fire.

Last Saturday, a lot of local merchants donated a portion of their proceeds for the day to the rebuilding fund. And they've started their own website — rebuildberkeleyhumane.org — to encourage other businesses to do the same.

Saturday when the Mozart Youth Camerata makes its debut at the El Cerrito Community Center, they'll pass the hat for the cause.

Other people are holding garage sales, and still others have created Facebook pages to solicit donations.

And every penny is desperately needed. Unlike the city's Animal Control Services, which is publicly funded, the Humane Society is entirely dependent on private donations. The two agencies have very different missions.

Animal Control's task is to round up strays, investigate allegations of animal abuse, bust pit bull fighting rings — stuff like that. That's a full-time job, and they don't have the time or resources to be an adoption agency, too.

That's where the Humane Society comes in. It rescues dogs and cats from the Berkeley and Oakland animal control shelters and finds loving new homes for them. Last year, the number topped 800 animals.

That's 800 cats and dogs who weren't euthanized to make room for new animals. But until the Humane Society can get up and running again, what's going to happen to the animals currently in local city shelters? There will be no option for them but euthanasia.

So how long will it take for the Humane Society to get back on its feet? It all depends on how fast the donations come in.

And that depends on us. And I mean all of us, not just Berkeleyans, because the Humane Society serves Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington Emeryville, North Oakland, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo, too.

Now it's time for us to come to its rescue — not only for the animals, but for our sense of ourselves, too.

You can contribute on the Humane Society's website, www.berkeleyhumane.org , or by sending a check to 2700 9th Street, Berkeley 94710.

They also need foster homes for two of the dogs who were rescued, as well as permanent homes for all 14 dogs and 10 cats. E-mail foster@berkeleyhumane.org or volunteer@berkeleyhumane.org if you can help.

Get creative! Let every store, every bar, every restaurant and every theater have a collection jar on its front counter. Let every school and service club pitch in.

When in doubt, just ask yourself: What would Billie and Sofia do?