As the flames tore down the valley towards them, one family knew that this was their last chance to escape. So they scooped up their beloved pets and placed them in their car. But when one dog refused to leave his goats, his loved ones made the heartbreaking decision to leave him behind.
In October 2017, wildfires ripped through Northern California. The infernos affected Napa, Lake and Sonoma counties, leaving 36,707 acres of charred land in their wake. Furthermore, the blazes claimed the lives of at least 40 people and destroyed more than 5,300 structures.
In the midst of the wildfires, Roland Hendel fled his Sonoma County home alongside his family. “The fire advanced at a rate of about a football field every three seconds,” Hendel told Steve in October 2017. As a result, the family would have to be quick to escape with their lives.
So they packed their car with the things most important things to them. With only five minutes to spare, they started loading up their dogs and cats. But when they got to their goat-herding pooch, Odin, they encountered a problem.
The stubborn dog simply refused to leave his herd behind. “The winds had gone mad by then. It was clear there was not going to be time to hitch up a trailer,” Hendel recalled. “I knew there was no way I was gonna drag [Odin] away or be able to load up the goats.”
So Hendel and his daughter, Ariel, made the agonizing decision to leave Odin behind. The dog and the goats were now at the mercy of the raging fire. As a result, as they drove away, the Hendels believed that this would be the last time they saw their beloved animals.
For the time being, Hendel and Ariel were focused on outrunning the fire. But when they finally escaped the reaches of the blaze, the emotion of what had happened hit home. “Later that morning when we had outrun the fires I cried, sure that I had sentenced Odie to death, along with our precious family of bottle-raised goats,” Hendel later revealed on Facebook.
When the fire died down, Hendel returned home to access the damage. He arrived to find trees still on fire and the charred ground still smoldering. “I drove down my road and I got to where we would see our house and it wasn’t there,” he revealed on Steve.
Within 24 hours, the Hendel family had lost almost everything. “We got out with our lives and what was in our pockets,” Hendel wrote on Facebook. However, all was not lost. Because as he looked at the burnt remains of his home, he noticed something out on the horizon.
“Out in the field I could see the little dots,” Hendel revealed. “The little black and white and brown dots of the goats. Then I could make out Odie’s tail wagging.” Amazingly, and against all the odds, the courageous dog had survived and led his herd to safety.
Hendel couldn’t believe what was happening. Having spotted him, Odin began trotting towards his owner – who was in floods of tears by this point. It’s safe to say that the fire had left the dog a little bit disheveled. The heat from the fire had melted his whiskers and charred his coat. He was also limping on his right side.
Now more than ever, the dog needed some gentle reassurance from his loving owner. “He was looking at me to say, ‘I’ve been such a good boy. Look what a good boy I am,’” Hendel revealed. “He saved all the animals.”
Hendel was so proud of his dog that he decided to write about his noble actions on Facebook. “Odin has lived up to his namesake,” he wrote, referring to the Norse god. “Pray for him and his charges. He is our inspiration. If he can be so fearless in this maelstrom, surely so can we.”
Given how many lives the wildfires had destroyed, Odin’s miraculous story provided numerous people with some hope. In the weeks that followed, Hendel’s post attracted more than 5,000 reactions and 3,000 shares. And, before long, news outlets all over America were reporting on Odin’s epic feat.
In the meantime, hero Odin was making a good recovery. He and Hendel’s other animals went to live at a nearby animal shelter. Their owner now had to get to work rebuilding their lives. And seeing as though the fire had claimed their home and nearly all of their belongings, this wouldn’t be easy.
To help him and his family start over, Hendel set up a YouCaring page to appeal for funds. He hoped to raise $45,000 to rebuild the animals’ barn and provide them with a fresh water pump. With winter on the way, it was vital that Hendel could secure some much-needed shelter for his creatures.
“When you lose everything, it is easy to see what is important,” Hendel wrote. “I pray we can get our animal family what they need to win their heroic fight for survival, so Odin’s bravery and sacrifice are not in vain. Thank you, from all of us, and please help us by reposting.”
Thanks to the attention Odin’s bravery received, it didn’t take long for donations to start flooding in. Soon, Hendel’s crowdfunding page had raked in $83,000 – far surpassing his original $45,000 goal. And judging from the well-wishes they left, many of the donors appeared to be animal lovers.
“Your brave Odin has earned an early retirement,” read one comment. “I have three Great Pyrenees that guard our homestead in Los Gatos from all predators. Most loving and affectionate guardians that take their duties very seriously! I’m so glad he made it!”
With the money he’s raised, Hendel plans to rebuild a fireproof home. And although no one should have to lose everything the way he did, the fire changed Hendel’s outlook on humanity. “This experience has taught me, more than I could have ever known, about our capacity for empathy and compassion,” he said Facebook in October 2017.