More than a week after deadly wildfires broke out in Northern California’s wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties, the infernos continue to rage.
As of yesterday, 41 people are confirmed dead as a result of the fires. More than 213,000 acres have been burned; an estimated 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed; and thousands of people and their companion animals left homeless. Although many evacuations have been lifted, over 40,000 people still remain evacuated. (Source)
Amidst the devastation and the heart-rending stories of loss and death (an elderly couple, aged 100 and 98, who perished in the fire had celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last year), this story of Odin the dog is a ray of light.
A Sonoma County man and his daughter are breathing a sigh of relief after finding their two dogs and several goats managed to survive the Tubbs Fire that roared through the region, killing at least 22 people.
Roland Hendel and his daughter Ariel saw smoke and flames creeping onto their Santa Rosa property near Mark West Springs Road and had minutes to get themselves and their animals to a safer location. Hendel told KTVU:
“The fire fight hit us first before any evacuation notices. We smelled smoke and there had been nothing on evacuations posted yet… I get all the alerts.”
But as Hendel tried to coax his 1½-year-old great Pyrenees named Odin into the car, the dog wouldn’t budge because the eight goats Odin protects were left behind.
“Even under the best of circumstances it is nearly impossible to separate Odin from the goats after nightfall when he takes over the close watch from his sister Tessa. I made a decision to leave him, and I doubt I could have made him come with us if I tried. We got out with our lives and what was in our pockets.”
As Hendel and his daughter fled from the raging fire with just one set of clothes, his cat and his cellphone, cars behind them were going up in flames. Hendel was sure he had sentenced his beloved Odin and goats to death.
The next day, Hendel returned to find everything on his property destroyed.
To Hendel’s surprise, all eight goats ran to greet him and lo and behold, Odin, with burned fur and singed whiskers, came limping up behind. Several small, orphaned deer had also found their way to Odin, and were safe under his care. Hendel wrote:
“(Odin) has adopted several baby deer who huddle around him for safety and water from their trough, which is miraculously intact and full of relatively clean water.”
Hendel said, “I started sobbing and my daughter and I… it didn’t matter the house was gone and the structures – to find all our animals safe was all we needed.”
Hendel will never know for certain what happened in those terrifying hours but he believes Odin herded the goats and deer to a rocky shelter because “His fur is orange so it’s not damaged from flames… but heat. And the padding of his paws are burned.”
Hendel quickly dropped off several bails of orchard grass and gave Odin, his sister Tessa, the goats and deer fresh water until he could get them to a safe place.
Days later, on October 11, Hendel found a back way past the roadblocks to check on his animals and set up a makeshift water supply. All were doing well, with Odin and the goats coughing occasionally, likely due to all the smoke they had inhaled.
Hendel returned that weekend, but Odin and the goats were nowhere to be seen. He wrote:
“We are trying to remain optimistic. If Odin could keep them alive through the firestorm, surely they are alive and well now. As soon as they are found we have secured a temporary home for them, and people who can get around the roadblocks to pick them up.”
A few hours later, Hendel found the creatures, all safe and sound:
“Oh Blessed Be. They are back. All of them. Safe and sound. Even silly little Tinkerbell. Odin always made sure she didn’t fall too far behind. They must have just gone to find us. Mercy. Evac team is on its way. Tears. So many tears.”
The goats were finally taken to a shelter Saturday evening, and Odin was seen by a volunteer veterinarian who said the hero dog, still limping with burned paws, was in “remarkable health, given what he’s been through.”
Odin, Tessa, and goats are all resting comfortably in a shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
A YouCaring page for Odin, Tessa and the goats had raised more than $64,000 as of this morning. Hendel wrote:
“I am overwhelmed by the support that we have received from all of you. So much kindness and compassion. The human spirit is truly a remarkable and wondrous thing.”
Hendel said enough money has been raised to rebuild the pumphouse and filtration system, build a new bar and repair the fence around the perimeter of his property.
Many people asked about the deer that Odin had kept safe. Although Hendel had left a two-week supply of food and water for them, rescuers could not get them out to safety. With that in mind, Hendel decided that 50 cents of every dollar donated to the YouCaring fund would go to the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue Center because “I think that is what Odin would like best, and this is, after all, his story.”
If you would like to donate to Hendel’s YouCaring fund, go here.
UPDATE (Oct. 18):
Odin’s burned paws are now healed, and a volunteer pet-groomer came by the shelter, and bathed and groomed Odin (and his sister).
Odin now has a Facebook page!