There’s nothing worse than losing a pet, and the thought of a beloved animal being alone in an unfamiliar or even dangerous place is one that no pet owner can bare. Most of us would give anything — even risk our lives — to protect our furry friends.
That’s why a California woman who lost her two dogs amidst the chaos of a natural disaster enlisted the help of a local hero to search for her pets after the crisis had passed. But when the rescuer started her search, not even she was prepared for what she found…
In November of 2018, the most destructive wildfire in California history ripped through the Golden State, decimating everything in its path. The blaze, known as the Camp Fire, destroyed 153,336 acres of land and caused between $7.5-$10 billion dollars in damages.
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The Camp Fire was also the deadliest in the state’s history and the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall. After scouring the rubble of the almost 19,000 buildings and structures consumed by the fire, authorities reported a staggering 86 casualties.
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times
Of the communities ravaged by the blaze, however, none were more affected than the town of Paradise. All 27,000 residents were evacuated from their homes as the fire proceeded to destroy 95 percent of all buildings in the community.
During the mad dash to escape the flames, the citizens of Paradise had little time to gather their possessions. Yet while the choice made by many to leave behind clothes, furniture, and even cars was surely a difficult one, there were others forced to sacrifice far more than just their valuables…
For Andrea Gaylord, the decision to abandon the home that had been in her family for ten generations was one of the hardest she’d ever made. But even as she watched as the century-old home went up in flames, something else made her heart ache more.
As the Camp Fire made its way through Paradise, Andrea’s guard dogs, Madison and Miguel, had taken off and vanished without a trace. Though she and her husband had searched tirelessly for their beloved pets, the encroaching blaze forced the couple to flee, leaving the fate of the dogs unknown.
Andrea and her husband fled to a nearby shelter, where, alongside hundreds of other evacuees, they waited for the fire to be extinguished. All the while, thoughts of Madison and Miguel never left her mind.
Finally, after 17 days of non-stop firefighting, the raging Camp Fire blaze was contained. Like her fellow Paradise residents, Andrea was eager to return home, hoping somehow her dogs had survived. But when she and her husband attempted to leave the shelter, they were told that Paradise was still too unsafe to return to.
That’s when she contacted Shayla Sullivan of K9 Paw Print Rescue, who had actively been rescuing lost pets from areas affected by the Camp Fire. After learning of the situation, Shayla vowed to do whatever she could to reunite Andrea with Madison and Miguel.
Shayla Sullivan / Facebook
However, as soon as Shayla began her search, she received word of a dog matching Madison’s and Miguel’s descriptions wandering through the small city of Citrus Heights near Sacramento. The city was 85 miles south of Paradise.
Shayla drove down there, and when she arrived, she was stunned to find the dog described to her was, in fact, Miguel! Unbelievably, the dog had traveled from Andrea’s home in Paradise and had been picked up by another local rescue organization.
Andrea was overjoyed when she heard the news about Miguel, but Shayla wasn’t satisfied with finding just one of the two pooches. And so, loading up her car once more, Shayla headed for Paradise.
The roads were barely navigable as Shayla made her way through the once-vibrant town, a graveyard of charred homes and vehicles peering out at her from beneath the ashes of burnt treetops. Forget dogs for a second: with so much destruction, was it possible anything could’ve survived out here?
Upon reaching Andrea’s burned-down property, however, Shayla got her answer. As she surveyed the scorched earth, Shayla noticed movement in the pile of rubble that was once the hundred-year-old home. She approached, her heart beating wildly…
It was Madison! Apparently, the faithful guard dog had returned after the fire had been extinguished and was now sitting watch of his former home! But even with the dog alive and well, there was still one challenge that Shayla would have to face.
Being that Madison was no lover of strangers, the wary dog immediately took off when Shayla approached him (some guard dog!). Shayla knew, if she wasn’t able to catch Madison, the dog would surely perish from a lack of food and water. Shayla needed a plan.
So after leaving some fresh water and a bowl of food out for Madison, Shayla returned to Andrea to share the good news and relay her difficulty in catching him. The pair was stumped over the predicament but devised the perfect method for luring the protective pup back home.
Using an article of Andrea’s clothing, Shayla used the smell to calm Madison and draw her back to the property. And when the guard dog returned, he found his owners and brother waiting there for him!
The tearful reunion was marked by excited licks and yelps from Madison, who was then fed a hefty bag of his favorite treat — Wheat Thins. Even in the face of catastrophe, Madison stayed loyal to his family and protected the home at all costs.
In all the destruction, this loyalty was not lost on Andrea. “You are the best dog,” she told Madison through joyful tears. “The best.” Meanwhile, workers turned their attention to restoring Paradise. Some looked to Chile for possible next steps.
See, in January of 2017, towering flames swept across the south-central region of Chile. The fires, fueled by historically high temperatures and a long drought, turned vineyards, forests, and homes to ash.
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Despite heroic efforts by firefighters, the flames only grew. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency. “We have never seen something of this size,” she said. “Never in Chile’s history.”
In February, with the help of foreign aid from 12 countries including Japan, the United States, and Russia, Chile corralled and controlled the fires. The destruction, though, was almost inconceivable.
Nearly 1,500 homes fell to the fire that ate up 1,433,000 acres of drought-dry forests and claimed 11 lives in the El Maule region. Charred trees were all that remained in an ecosystem once teaming with animal life.
But in the wake of the fires, Francisca Torres (below) — who ran an environmental NGO called Pewos — and her sister undertook the impossible task of rejuvenating the forests. She enlisted some curious help to get the job done…
See, Francisca knew even with human replanting efforts, it would take decades to restore the charred forest. With her border collies, Summer, Olivia, and Das, however, she hoped to speed the process up.
Balti Mom / Instagram
The project, which started in March of 2017, drew inspiration from the legend of Johnny Appleseed, an 18th-century American who generously spread apple seeds all across Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Francisca and her sister’s recreation of the American legend didn’t feature a pioneer and nurseryman, however. Instead, her three border collies wore special backpacks, all stuffed with the seeds of native trees…
Martin Bernetti / Instagram
Then, she sent them off running into the charred forests! On a typical excursion, six-year-old Das led the charge, and her two pups followed close behind her. They played with seed-stuffed backpacks.
As the dogs ran and wrestled throughout the charred forests, they sent seeds flying from their special backpacks. The goal, of course, was to spread seeds far and wide.
Balti Mom / Instagram
Francisca (right) hoped the seeds would take root throughout the forest, giving life to trees, grass, and flowers. “The main thing,” she said, “is for the fauna to be able to live.”
Because Francisca knew that, if the trees and flowers returned to the Chilean forests, so would the bees, birds, and every other animal or insect exiled by the devastating fires.
Naturally, Summer, Olivia, and Das relished the opportunity to run free along the forest floor — even if they didn’t truly understand their impact on the landscape. Even better, as Francisca pointed out, they were effective…
Border collies were bred to herd sheep. They’re smart, they’re fast, and they know not to get distracted by any bird they might see passing by overhead. But more importantly, they could cover serious distances.
Your average human, Francisca figured, might be able to cover effectively about two miles of forest per day using the Johnny Appleseed technique of haphazardly tossing seeds everywhere. But the dogs?
Thanks to their speed and energy, Summer, Olivia, and Das covered about 10 times as much as a human could — nearly 20 miles per day. And the dogs were handsomely rewarded for that…
Every time the dogs returned to Francisca, she refilled their backpacks with seeds…and handed over a few delicious dog treats, too! Then, of course, they were off to play again — and spread seeds.
Incredibly, the dogs did such a great job with the seeds — they each spread about 20 pounds worth every day in the field — that their services were used in forests throughout Chile.
Martin Bernetti / Instagram
Just from March 2017 to June 2017, for instance, Summer, Olivia, and Das visited 15 different flame-devastated forests in the region. At each burned spot, they brought their backpacks full of seeds. And best of all?
By June, Francisca shared the good news: “we have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest,” she said. No doubt, those dogs definitely earned their treats!