Sanctuary for hero dog Odin in 2017 fires meant sticking with his goats
One of the heroes of the 2017 Tubbs fire is a handsome Great Pyrenees named Odin who risked his life and was injured while protecting his herd of livestock and even some wildlife.
Late on that awful night of Oct. 8, huge flames fanned by raging winds closed in on Odin’s home on Franz Valley Road outside Santa Rosa. Odin’s owner, Roland Hendel, had only a few minutes to evacuate his family and pets.
Aside from their cats and two dogs, the Hendels owned eight bottle-fed rescue goats. In the rush to leave, it wasn’t possible to bring the goats.
Odin was still a pup, only 1½ years old, but he took his job as nighttime guardian of the flock so seriously that he refused to budge from the property without the goats. Hendel was forced to leave Odin behind. The family barely got out ahead of the flames, and they presumed Odin and the goats were forever lost.
Two days later, with the neighborhood still burning, Hendel skirted police roadblocks and returned home to find his property leveled, including the pumphouse and barn. Trees were still burning.
But Odin and all eight goats were there to greet him, along with some fawns that the Great Pyrenees had taken under his protection.
“I think he led them onto a pile of rocks where he knew they wouldn’t burn,” Hendel said. “The goats always listen to him absolutely. He has a number of different barks. If he barks one way, the goats jump on the rocks; another bark, and they come down.”
Odin suffered minor injuries during the fire.
“His coat was singed from the heat,” Hendel said. “It was sort of melted, like when a cat’s fur gets too close to a candle flame. He limped from burns on his paw pads. He looked shrunken, and his coat was sort of rough and orange. It’s usually creamy white. He must have run through the fire but never got caught by it.”
Odin’s story was one of the brightest survival tales to emerge in the first days of the fires, making the workman pup a media star among thousands of domestic animals displaced during the 2017 firestorm. Some were quickly reunited with owners, returning to homes that had survived disaster. Many others were taken in temporarily and sometimes permanently by animal sanctuaries, large ranches and regular homes.
“More than 1,000 large animals were housed temporarily at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds alone,” said Dr. Amber Bowen, a veterinarian who was in charge of large animal evacuation at the fairgrounds ?during the fire and in ensuing weeks. Up to 300 volunteers helped care for the animals taken there during the firestorm.
Bowen estimated that another 10,000 animals were cared for elsewhere, in animal sanctuaries and other small properties.
It would be eight months before the Hendel family and its pets could begin to live together again on their devastated property. In the meantime, the goats, plus Odin, and his sister, Tessa - the flock’s daytime guardian - ended up living with and being cared for by others.
After staying at the fairgrounds, one of their temporary sanctuaries was a colorfully named outfit - Goatlandia - established on a bucolic northwest Santa Rosa property only months before the fire by a former San Franciscan who’d plied successful careers ranging from swimwear designer to cargo pilot and restaurateur.
Deborah Blum was in search of a more peaceful life when she moved in 2011 onto her 2 acres off Olivet Lane. But she never set out to run an animal sanctuary. She came to it gradually, through a series of decisions and events.
After volunteering in a wildlife rescue center for two years, she decided she’d enjoy adopting a few farm animals. Influenced by the work of animal welfare activist Gary Yourofsky, she adopted a vegan diet and later began visiting animal sanctuaries. She took in a few animals herself, and then a few more.
After attending the annual Farm Animal Care Conference in 2016, she decided to open an animal sanctuary. By the summer of 2017, Goatlandia had attained its nonprofit status and by early October, just before the fire, the sanctuary held 46 animals.
Those numbers would soon double.
“When the fire broke out I’d been in Hawaii for three days,” Blum said. Her red-eye flight home Sunday night, Oct. 8, arrived at San Francisco International Airport before dawn on Monday.
“I landed here at 4:30 a.m. and had a phone message from a neighbor asking if I’d gotten out OK,” she said. “I had no idea what he meant, so I called him and learned about the fire.”
Blum’s property was close to Coffey Park, which was largely destroyed by the fires. She rushed home from the airport and immediately began evacuating animals to her mother’s property in Sebastopol.