Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 8, 2011

A Pet Owner’s Worst Nightmare: Fire

Posted at 09:50AM - Comments: (7)

I’m dog-sitting Chaco, the last little foster dog I found a home for. I got a call from her new owner the other morning. Chris asked how I was, and then asked if I could possibly dog-sit Chaco for a few days or perhaps longer. “Of course!” I replied, “What’s up?” Her voice broke as she answered, “My house burned down yesterday!”

“Oh my goodness! Where are you? Are you alright?” I asked. She said she was okay, and explained that she had actually been out for a walk with her boyfriend and both of her dogs when she got a call from her mother. Her mom said, “Honey?  I got a call from your neighbor; she said your house is on fire and the fire department is there!”

I told Chris I’d be right over, and jumped into the car. I was at her house in five minutes. At first glance, the house looked alright . . . until I saw the holes chopped into the roof by the fire department. Approaching the house, I saw piles of charred and sodden insulation, and smelled the acrid odor of a house fire. I pushed open the door, and oh my. The entire interior of the house was dripping wet, smelled smoky, and was covered with soot and burned insulation. Most of the frame of the house was intact, except for those holes in the roof and one spot on one wall. But it is completely uninhabitable due to the water and smoke damage.

Amazingly, both of the cats were okay; they had a pet door and evidently used it to escape. That’s kind of a miracle; often, cats try to hide from the heat and smoke of a fire by going under a bed or into a closet. The firefighters captured one kitty in the yard; the other one came out of hiding from goodness knows where in the middle of the night, after all the strangers were gone and my friends were still picking through the mess for clothes and photos and anything salvageable.

My friends will be okay; they have family and friends and places to stay and to help with the pets -- and they have insurance! My dog Otto and Chaco were thrilled to see each other again, and immediately started chasing each other around my yard. Chris is grateful that no one was hurt – and that the fire didn’t break out at night when they were all sleeping (the fire fighters said it looked like it originated with some wiring in the attic). She had crates for each of her animals, and they (the dogs anyway) are habituated to and comfortable in the crates in the car. Also, all of her animals were wearing ID. That’s the start of a great emergency plan.

I just can’t stop thinking about what would happen if a fire broke out at my house and my dog and cat were trapped inside. I’m not sure I can think of anything scarier. All the animals, especially little Chaco, a foster dog once again for a few days, get extra hugs tonight.

Comments (7)

One of my clients had a house fire last summer. Her two beagle puppies were crated in the master bedroom, and she has one of those home security systems that automatically calls both the homeowner and the fire department when the smoke detectors go off. She told the alarm company where the dogs were and they conveyed that to the firefighters, and thankfully the puppies made it out unscathed. The firefighters otherwise wouldn't have even known to look for pets.

Posted by: Rebecca Deming R | March 24, 2011 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Wow, I love the idea of conditioning the pets to look for you when the alarm goes off, that's a great idea. I'm going to do that with my boys. It could translate to when visiting a friend's house too. Thanks!

Posted by: WILD GOOSE CHASE | March 8, 2011 8:38 PM    Report this comment

I always ask about MONITORED fire alarms before leaving my dogs at the vet or anyplace where the staff won't be there 24hours. Over the years have seen local news reports as the few surviving caged dogs were pulled to safety by firefighters - from places that didn't have monitoring of their fire alarm system so the poor animals were the only ones to hear the alarms. Even residential monitoring by alarm companies like ADT isn't overly expensive and is certainly expected for commercial dog boarding facilities but you'd be surprised how many just have the unmonitored systems.

Posted by: BARBARA F | March 8, 2011 7:48 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Nancy - good point! We had a fire in an apartment once (thank dog we were home) and it really scared us so badly. The outside tip is good in case someone else had to try and get them out. It would be good information for my neighbor to know they'll come too "just in case"...

Posted by: HEATHER G | March 8, 2011 1:23 PM    Report this comment

This tip of treating when the fire alarm goes off is wonderful. And a great article, thanks.

Posted by: sandyrakowitz | March 8, 2011 12:56 PM    Report this comment

GREAT tip, I love it. Now, train them to all come to you in a safe spot in the backyard -- in hopes that if a fire breaks out when you are not home, they go outside (if they can). Maybe it's all whistling in the dark. Fires are so scary. -- Nancy Kerns, Editor

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | March 8, 2011 12:37 PM    Report this comment

This tip only works if you are at home when a fire breaks out but we practice fire drills. eEery time the smoke alarm goes off (be it from burning something in the oven or we do it on purpose) I call all the dogs and cats to come to me and they get a treat. Many treats - as many as it takes to keep them focused on me until the sound is off. It has worked and now when the alarms go off - I barely even have to call anyone - the dogs just look for me and come to me. The cats are still a challenge - they need to be called but they will usually come see what I may have. Even when the dogs are outside, if they hear the alarm, they come to the door looking for me.

Posted by: HEATHER G | March 8, 2011 12:32 PM    Report this comment

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