Shock, disbelief, and fear gripped my heart! I watched helplessly as our house filled with smoke knowing that my dogs were still inside.
Neverwas the Human-Canine Bond more evident than when I experienced a house fire! My husband had been relocated and was house hunting in another state, so I found myself all alone. Well, not really. I had my dogs! The story I’m about to share reaffirmed how incredibly powerful the human-canine bond is in helping people deal with stressful events.
A few months earlier we received news from my husband’s employer that we would be moving. So we began preparing our house for the market. It’s a beautiful federal colonial style home sitting on a hill in the picturesque New England countryside.
We painted the walls, trimmed the bushes, raked the leaves, and were preparing for winter as we’d heard it would be particularly brutal that year. The final touch was refinishing the wood floors. We wanted the house to sparkle and cause someone to fall in love with it, as we’d done two years earlier.
One evening, after the contractor finished sanding the floors, I drove to the vet to pick up one of my dogs who’d just been spayed. When I returned home I noticed a strange haze through my windows but didn’t know what it was. When I opened the door I was instantly gripped with fear. . .the house was filled with smoke!
My first thought was to get in and save my dogs! But I knew I’d never make it.
The smoke was too thick. I quickly retreated and called 911. My body was trembling. I’ve never prayed so hard or so fast . . .
“Dear God, dear God, please save my dogs! Please save my dogs . . .”
After what seemed like an eternity, a jeep raced up my driveway. It turned out that the fire chief lived right down the road! He and another fireman dashed out of the car and called out,
“Where are the dogs?”
I’d been on the phone with the dispatcher who already informed them that my dogs were inside the house.
I called out, “Turn left at the door, then right. You’ll see their crates!”
Thankfully, the month before, I had been working on an emergency disaster plan for my dogs. They were all comfortably crated, and in the entryway was a map with their names and locations. My car was also prepared for an emergency with crates, leashes, food, and water. As the firemen brought out my dogs I placed them safely in their crates. They seemed fine, but I was worried they may have inhaled smoke.
At the time I also had a litter of pups with their mom in our living room. One by one the courageous firemen carried out my precious Cavalier King Charles Spaniel pups. But my Standard Poodle was still upstairs in my bedroom. I felt so helpless. I then heard sirens in the distance . . .
“Dear God, please save my dogs, please save my dogs . . .” I continued to pray, tremble, and hope. I was never so happy to see a fire truck in my whole life!
My attention turned back to the house. Where was my Poodle?
I felt a hand on my shoulder and the voice of a fireman saying,
“Are you alright, miss?”
I could barely get a word out. My teeth were chattering and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I kept telling myself to calm down but my body wouldn’t stop shaking.
Suddenly, a fireman came out through the front door carrying my poodle!
“Solo!!!” I called out with joy. My dog ran to me, jumped up and wrapped his paws around my waist as if to hug me! The instant I held him my trembling stopped. Other than smelling like smoke, he seemed okay. All my dogs were safe!
To my surprise, a Canine Emergency Response Team arrived. I had no idea they existed. The vet and his team immediately set up on my lawn, in the cold of the night, and attended to my dogs.
The first dog they examined was Solo, my Standard Poodle. Apparently he would not walk out of the smoke-filled house so the fireman had to carry him. I watched in silence, waiting, wondering . . .
Using his stethoscope, the vet listened to the lungs of each dog. Then he looked up at me.
“They’ll be fine,” he said with a reassuring smile. I was so grateful!
The fire chief approached me to inquire about the events of the night. Amazingly, with my Poodle at my side, I was now able to speak with a measure of calm. He also questioned the contractor, who had been called in to help determine the cause. It turned out that the contractor should never have left the sanding machine (nor the sand bag and rags) in our home after using it. Apparently it’s a fire hazard. Thank God the fire didn’t start during the night while I was asleep, or I might not be here today!
The firemen were truly amazing. They were calm, comforting, and courageous!
The fire chief finished his report and told me I could go to a hotel, or stay in the house if I could handle sleeping with the windows open. I had no idea what to do and looked a bit lost.
“Don’t you have any family nearby?” He asked.
Lowering my head I said, “My family is in another state, and my husband has been relocated and is waiting for me to join him once we sell the house.”
Our neighbors walked over and graciously offered me a room for the night, but I didn’t want to leave the dogs. I thanked them, but opted to stay at home.
Fortunately the fire had been contained to the entryway, so I went upstairs and crawled into bed.
The windows had to remain open to air out the house from the smoke. The fireman also told me not to use the heating system until the ducts were cleaned. Needless to say, I was freezing! So I piled on the blankets, but they all had a strong smoke odor. I quickly realized that every part of the house had smoke damage—my clothes, bedding, curtains, and the furniture. Even my Poodle who was snuggling close to keep me warm smelled of smoke!
The Cavaliers were safely crated in the garage, which was the only room in the house not affected by smoke. I knew that sleeping in the house was not ideal, but I didn’t know which hotel would allow for more than one dog (the only thing I forgot to research in my emergency plan). Solo gently placed his head on my chest. I could feel his breath. We both gazed into each other’s eyes.
In that moment, I felt a strange peace come over me. I can’t explain it, but I felt it. I’m sure he felt it too. He seemed so calm. The bond we shared was never more evident or powerful than that night.
After a few hours, I must have dosed off from exhaustion but awoke suddenly coughing and gasping for air. The smoke had triggered my asthma. I knew I had to get out of the house, but there was no place to get away, except the garage. So I quickly packed a small bag of essentials and ensured all the dogs in the garage were watered, fed, and went out to potty. Then Solo and I headed out to find a hotel. From that moment on, I sensed that his constant presence was sustaining me through the challenges I faced.
When I arrived at the closest hotel, I was told that no dogs were allowed. My heart sank. Eventually I found one that would accept at least one dog. So I checked in, and collapsed into a chair.
So many questions filled my mind—
How was I going to take care of my dogs? How would we sell our home now? How would I be able to move and join my husband?
To make matters worse, I knew that a blizzard was approaching! Solo must have sensed my anxiety and once again placed his healing paws on my lap while gazing into my eyes . . .
His presence reminded me how blessed I was. All my dogs were alive, and I was unharmed! I held onto that thought every day thereafter, and thankfulness became the fuel that spurred me on.
A few days later the cleaners arrived and removed all my clothes, bedding, curtains, towels, carpets, and basically anything that could be cleaned from the smoke damage. It was a strange feeling not only to be alone, but to have almost all my belongings suddenly disappear. I kept telling myself that I was one of the lucky ones. It could have been so much worse!
The weeks and months that followed were some of the darkest days of my life. On top of dealing with adjusters, contractors, cleaners, and smoke remediation, I had to make the trip from the hotel to my house three to four times a day to care for my dogs, even driving through blizzard conditions. One particular night the snow was falling so fast that I knew the roads would be closed by morning. So around midnight, I drove back to my house to care for the dogs. But the snow had already drifted so high that I wasn’t able to get up the driveway. So with my poodle on leash we trudged through the snow, which was already above my knees. Solo managed, since he’s quite tall and agile. But half way up I couldn’t catch my breath and fell down. My asthma was still bothering me. I looked up to pray and ask God for help. There was a full moon that night, and all the stars were shinning! For a moment I was caught up in the beauty . . .
Then I thought about my dogs, who were depending on me to keep them alive.
Once again, the bond with my dogs gave me the will to press on, through the fire, and this time, through the storm!
Well, I made it to the house, and spent the next couple hours shoveling a pathway for the dogs to go potty. They were so happy to see me and despite the chaos, they ran and chased each other, and even played in the snow!
It’s really amazing how dogs adapt to the storms of life!
Thanks to my dogs, I found the courage to face each challenge. My husband also called each day to check on me and offer his support. Unfortunately he had just begun the new job, so couldn’t take time off to be with me. One evening I stopped by my friend’s house and collapsed in her chair. The fire had wiped me out. I felt I had nothing left, emotionally, or physically. I was numb. Thank God for friends, who are there in our times of need.
I had no idea how complicated life would be after a fire, and to add to that, an impending move! Thankfully, my sister-in-law flew up for a few days to help me. And of course, there was my beloved Poodle!
His heartfelt hugs were my favorite part of the day, and acted like a shelter in the storm.
Each day from morning to night my focus was on caring for the dogs, restoring the house, and getting it on the market. The days and weeks dragged on, but the light at the end of the tunnel was starting to appear . . .
The entryway was finally restored, with fresh paint, and shiny new wood floors!
Soon after the movers arrived and packed our belongings. And there was Solo, always ready and willing to help . . .
He was my angel, my healer, and my constant comfort THROUGH THE FIRE, through the storm, and throughout our move!
Thanks to the comforting presence of my dogs, especially that of my Standard Poodle, I was able to make it through the winter of my soul, an emotionally trying season which nearly broke me.
Spring soon rolled around, and moving day finally arrived, thank God!
Although I loved our home, I was more than ready to leave, and begin a new chapter of our life . . . hopefully a much happier one!
I learned something very important about the power of the human-canine bond: When we’re at our breaking point, when the things we normally rely on for strength are taken away, it’s that very bond that can hold us together!
The bond we share acts like a shelter in the storm and a healing balm when faced with trying circumstances. It also demonstrates all the dimensions of love (i.e. friendship, encouragement, care, compassion, comfort, empathy, trust, forgiveness), in both directions! This may sound crazy, but in many ways, for me, it also connects me to God . . .
I’ve often wondered if dogs are like our guardian angels, sent by God to comfort and encourage us in our times of need!
When Solo looked at me each day, I could almost hear him say,
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know!” ~ A.A. Milne
I feel tremendously blessed to have my dogs! Interestingly, the human-canine bond is linked to a “feel good” hormone called oxytocin, also called the “bonding hormone,” and “love hormone.” It’s released in both humans and dogs when they interact, while playing, snuggling, walking together, or simply gazing in each other’s eyes . . .
I’ve always known that I feel more hopeful, happier, and healthier when with my dogs, but I don’t think I ever knew how incredibly powerful the bond between me and my dogs could be until the fire happened, and then the storm, and finally the move.
Thanks to their comforting presence, faith, family and friends, I know that I can face tomorrow with HOPE IN MY HEART!
“Dogs are our angels, our teachers, our healers, a gift from above to comfort us in times of need. If we look carefully, we can learn from them how to make the world a brighter and better place!” ~ Leila Grandemange
I dedicate this article to my beloved dogs and the firemen who saved their lives.