Paramedic reunites owner with dog lost during Calif. wildfires

Sara Jo Long refused to leave the gentle giant shaking and injured in the only block he had come to know in his nine years

By Stephanie Weldy
The Marin Independent Journal

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Zeus was a stone’s throw from his Santa Rosa home when he was scooped into the arms of Sara Jo Long.

The 100-pound ranch dog with a penchant for guarding the family’s chickens was found in a neighborhood destroyed when the Tubbs Fire roared through, a mile off Highway 101, on Mark West Springs Road.

Long, 30, a San Rafael resident who works as a paramedic for Bell’s Ambulance Service in Sonoma and Napa counties, refused to leave the gentle giant shaking and injured in the only block he had come to know in his nine years.

“I never thought anything was wrong until my partner saw him laying down and shaking,” Long said of the German shepherd she met the evening the fires broke out. “I look at the dog and his paws were completely stripped of his pads on his feet.”

Long, who lives in Santa Venetia, carried Zeus to the ambulance she and her partner used to respond to some 28 emergency calls that night. Ready to end a workshift that was pouring into 36 hours, Long knew her day was just beginning.

The Wine Country fires devastated neighborhoods and tore apart families last week. But from the ashes, stories of reunions between pets and their owners have began to surface.

Two weeks after the firestorms ignited, Marin Humane’s Bel Marin Keys campus was flooded with cats, dogs and even tortoises.

Staffers transferred 146 animals to other shelters in the area in an effort to accommodate an expected surge in evacuee pets. Up to 400 animals were housed at the campus at one point, with more than 100 still there on Friday. Another 160 animals were to be added to the mix, as strays and animals undergoing medical care, were expected to soon go up for adoption.

Zeus treated

Zeus was calm as Long and her partner scoured the area for a nearby veterinary hospital.

At an animal hospital in Windsor, a doctor who took a quick glance of Zeus’s paws said it appeared the dog suffered third-degree burns. The dog’s feet were bandaged and the trio was directed to Wine Country Veterinary Hospital, not far away.

Long received pain medication for Zeus, who she temporarily named “Toby.” She later dropped her co-worker, who had lost his home in the fires, with a girlfriend in Sebastopol.

Zeus was immediately welcomed into the Long home by the family’s German shepherd mix, Maki.

“My dog was intuitive to what was going on,” Long said. “He smelled his paws and starts licking him on the face.”

The Long twins lined their toys around the newcomer, also welcoming him to their home.

Long woke up the next morning to find Zeus in the garage, where he had plopped onto a pile of laundry.

He later made himself comfortable in the front yard, where the family keeps chickens.

Zeus kept a constant eye on the chicks in their penned-up coop as he relaxed outside, allowing his foot bandages to occasionally be changed. Little did the Long family know that Zeus had grown up on a ranch, and had long before fallen in love with guarding the family farm.

It took only four hours and a mutual friend before Zeus was reunited with his longtime family.

‘Started crying’

A friend of Long’s posted photos of Zeus on her personal Facebook page. Meanwhile, Mariah First, 23, had reactivated her own Facebook page in an effort to find the family dog.

The First family, of Santa Rosa, fled their home within five minutes of learning flames from the Tubbs Fire were visible in the distance. The family was devastated as they assessed the damage after going to a home they owned in Rohnert Park.

Seeing that Zeus was too fearful to take to the family’s fleeing car, First’s 22-year-old brother begged his father to allow Zeus to stay inside the home while they were gone, but to no avail.

First stayed up late into the night, scouring photos of lost and found animals from the Wine Country fires on Facebook.

When a friend later that night showed her a post of a German shepherd being sheltered by a stranger in San Rafael, she was ecstatic.

“I instantly knew it was him,” she said on Friday. “I was in the car with my sister. I said, ‘It’s Zeus!’ I quickly showed her a picture and started crying.”

First said Zeus has long been the butt of family jokes. The blended family with seven siblings regularly has teased the dog for his large face and dopey gait.

“We didn’t think he was going to make it out,” First said. “But he proved us all wrong.”

Marin Humane has boarded all pets of evacuees for free. Community members were encouraged by shelter officials to donate money to help support efforts to microchip, provide rabies vaccines, pet food and other supplies to all animals returning home to their families, said Lisa Bloch, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

Copyright 2017 The Marin Independent Journal

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