Passers-by rushed into a burning pet shop in Manhattan to help firefighters carry dozens of animals to safety Saturday, but as many as eight puppies and kittens perished in the blaze.

The owner of the store, the International Kennel Club at 1032 Second Ave., said he was unable to account for a few pets that he believed were either stolen or taken home by good Samaritans uncertain of where to bring the animals. "As long as they're living, that's all I'm concerned about," Jeff Fein said.The rescued animals - most of them unconscious from smoke inhalation - were taken for treatment to the New York Veterinary Hospital and the Animal Medical Center. Six to eight kittens and puppies died, succumbing to the heavy, choking smoke that quickly filled the store, Fein said.

But the prognosis was "good" for nine puppies and four kittens treated for shock at the Animal Medical Center, veterinarian Mark Stetter said. They were "rolling and tumbling and having fun" in an oxygen cage late Saturday, he said. "Some don't even know they're sick."

Fein estimated there were about 40 puppies and kittens in the pet shop, on the first floor of a four-story building, when the blaze erupted in the basement at 1:33 p.m., sending smoke billowing through the store.

Thirty firefighters battled the blaze for 30 minutes before bringing it under control, said Don Malva, a fire department spokesman.