As Robert Handel and his family drove away from their burning neighborhood, they were certain that their beloved dog Odin and their 8 goats would also fall prey to the wildfires.
So imagine their surprise – and relief – when they returned the next day to find Odin and the goats were safe and sound.
Handel, who lives on a farm in northern California, first smelled the smoke of the wildfires on Sunday evening. He woke up everyone on the property and ushered his 14-year-old daughter into the car so they could evacuate. But when he turned to get Odin, he saw that the dog had laid down in front of their 8 bottle-fed goats – and he was not budging.
“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,” writes Handel.
Though it was a heartbreaking choice to make, Handel knew that leaving immediately meant “life or death”. So, as the area was filled with the sound of collapsing metal structures and propane tanks, he made sure that the gate was open for the animals, got in the car, and started driving away from the property.
“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,” he says.
“Cars behind us … were pouring flames out of the windows as they roared down the road. Later that morning when we had outrun the fires, I cried, sure that I had sentenced Odin to death, along with our precious family of bottle-raised goats.”
After circumventing several roadblocks the next morning, however, they returned to the property only to be greeted by eight goats, their Great Pyrenees guardian Odin, and several deer that had taken advantage of the brave canine’s protection.
“I could never describe the relief and joy we felt to find them safe and accounted for,” says Handel.
Odin’s fur was singed, his whiskers had melted, he had a limp in his right leg, his paw pads were burnt, and he was visibly exhausted – but after taking some well-deserved rest, veterinary officials say that he is surprisingly unharmed. And apart from a small burn on the back of one of the goats, the herd had stayed safe as well.
Handel guesses that Odin had guided them to a rocky outcropping on higher ground in order to avoid the blaze.
The farmer has since raised enough money through his YouCaring page to rebuild the barn and restock the animal’s water supply before winter. Any funds raised over their $45,000 goal will be split between buying a trailer for the goats and animals in the future, and the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue Center in order to care for other animals affected by the wildfires.
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Reprint (Photo by Robert Handel)