As It Happens

A dog called Odin survives California wildfires after refusing to abandon his goats

Roland Hendel fought back tears as he described leaving behind his beloved family dog Odin as raging wildfires approached his home.
As the wildfires came closer and closer, Roland Hendel had to make a decision: Force his dog Odin into the car, or leave him to stay with the eight goats it was his duty to protect. Odin would not move. (Roland Hendel/YouCaring )

Story transcript

As the raging California wildfires encroached upon Roland Handel's home, he had to make a split-second decision — try to force his dog Odin into the car, or leave him behind.

Odin is one of two great Pyrenees who take turns guarding the family's eight goats from coyotes and mountain lions, and he was on duty the night the fires broke out. 

"At night, Odin won't leave the goats," Handel told As It Happens host Carol Off. "When I approached, he sat down in front of the goats, and I know that look. He wasn't moving."

With flames racing towards his property, he said there was no time to load the goats into a trailer. 

"I had my 14-year-old daughter and we had to get out," he said between sobs. 

So he opened the gates so the animals could flee, then drove off with his daughter, their three other dogs and two cats all packed into the family car. 

"The cars behind us on the road had fire pouring out of the windows just minutes after we left," he said. "It was life and death."

Roland Hendel cuddles with his daughter and their sheep dogs Odin, left, and Tessa. (Roland Hendel/YouCaring )

The California wildfires have been blamed for at least 40 deaths in Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, with some 5,700 homes and other structures destroyed.

The death toll could climb as searchers dig through the ruins for people listed as missing. Hundreds were unaccounted for, though authorities said many of them are probably safe but haven't let anyone know.

"By the time we were going down the road, you could hear the twisting metal of transmission towers falling and propane tanks exploding," Handel said. "I'll never forget it."

It wasn't until he got his daughter to safety that he was able to really process that he'd left Odin behind. 

"We were hoping somehow they were OK, that some miracle happened," he said.

He returned the next day, circumventing roadblocks to get there. 

He discovered that his home and everything else on his property was completely destroyed.

Except for Odin, who was there waiting for him — with all eight goats.

Odin survived with all eight goats. 'He didn't lose a single one,' his owner said. (Roland Hendel/YouCaring )

"I couldn't believe it," Handel said. "Everything else is gone. There's nothing."

Odin ran up to him and showered him with kisses, he said. The dogs paw pads were burnt and his bright white fur was singed orange.

"He looked small and he was limping. He was lying down a lot. He was clearly exhausted."

A group of deer had gathered with Odin and the goats, Handel said, perhaps also taking advantage of the brave pooch's protection. The deer scattered when Handel approached.

He believes the dog led the other animals to a clearing at the centre of a high outcropping of rocks to avoid contact with the flames. 

Handel is now raising money on YouCaring to rebuild the animals' barn and water supply before winter.

Roland Hendel lost his entire home and the structures on his property when a wildfire ripped through Sonoma County, Calif. (Roland Hendel/YouCaring )

Even though he's lost his home and all his belongings, Handel said he feels "nothing but joy and gratitude."

"We feel really blessed," he said. "All those other things can be replaced, or you realize they're not necessary."

Odin, meanwhile has had a full check-up and is doing well.

"It's amazing he's in such good spirits. He doesn't show signs of being traumatized at all. He's just really happy," Handel said.

"He'll make a full recovery. He's going to be back with his goats."

Odin is expected to make a full recovery. (Roland Hendel/YouCaring )


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