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Santa Rosa family evacuates amid Sonoma County wildfire with pony in the car's back seat

Lauren Mesaros behind the wheel of her 2001 Honda Accord as her pony, Stardust, takes a backseat, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (Photo: Lisette Hall Frye)

MICHAEL BARNES,

When evacuating a raging wildfire, you have only minutes to decide what the most important possessions in your life are to take with you. Most evacuees grab a change of clothes, important documents and family photos. Lauren Mesaros, 55, grabbed her pony, Stardust.

Before the Tubbs fire razed the Coffey Park neighborhood to the ground on Monday, Mesaros had only a matter of minutes to evacuate herself and her three horses.

Mesaros, a registered nurse at UCSF, shared a home with her three steeds across the railroad tracks from the Coffey Park neighborhood. The trailer of her friend, Carol Spears, was only big enough to fit two of the three horses. With the flames encroaching ever closer, Mesaros had to think quick — she packed her pony inside the back of her 2001 Honda Accord. “We looked at each other and looked at the mini horse and said ‘Whelp, put him in the Honda,'” Mesaros said.

How do you get pony to climb into the backseat of a car? By luring it with a carrot, of course. Mesaros stood on one side of the car, dangling the carrot, as Spears stood on the other side, nudging Stardust in from behind.

“He just went in like a big dog. As a horse owner we didn't think twice about it. It's like putting your dog or cat in the car,” Mesaros said.

A photo taken by a neighbor found its way on Mesaros’ sister-in-law’s Facebook page, and went viral after being shared more than 15,000 times.

With the streets jammed by evacuating traffic, Mesaros worried that Stardust might start to get carsick. “I was afraid he was going to jump over the front seat, but I started to sing so that we were both calm,” she said.

Mesaros and her mares eventually made it safely out of the blaze. The horses are now at Wind Horse Ranch, waiting to get the call for any promotional work. “I reached out to Honda to see if they would like to use Stardust and our story in lieu of donating a car to someone who needs it after the wildfires,” Mesaros said. “I was joking with the woman who helped me load Stardust that she could start doing clinics on how to load your horse into your Honda.”

If Honda doesn’t get back to Mesaros, she can always take the pony around to cheer up wildfire victims, but there’s only one problem with that: “He’s cute and snuggly, but he bites,” Maseros said.