Two Jack Russell terriers named Barbie and Lucy are being honored as heroes in Gainesville, Florida after waking up their two human guardians and alerting them to a fire on Christmas Eve, enabling them to dash to safety just moments before their house went up in flames.
Richard Pla and Kyle Strohmann were awakened around 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve by the sound of Barbie and Lucy barking. Thanks to the early warning, they were able to escape with only minor burns and smoke inhalation.
According to Pla, the dogs gave them "the almost 30 seconds we had to get up, get to the front door, get ourselves out and get them out before the house went into flames."
After vacating the home, Pla, Strohmann, Barbie and Lucy went to another part of town to stay with family members temporarily, but found Lucy missing December 27. They were concerned, but suspected the dog was trying to get back to her home.
Luckily, Lucy was found December 28, safe and sound, about a mile away. Pla said she appeared to indeed have been headed back toward the burned house.
"She's been so traumatized, well, we all have, "Pla said, "she just thought she would go home."
Officials investigating the fire said it was likely caused by an electrical problem. The house had a smoke detector, but the men told authorities they didn't hear it go off.
"The dog is the hero in this Christmas story," fire department spokesman Michael Heeder said.
"Animals being lower to the ground have cleaner air and, especially dogs, have a keener sense of smell," he explained. "If they determine there is a problem from the scent or from observing flames, it has been documented when pets have barked and alerted occupants."
It took more than 20 firefighters about 20 minutes to get the fire under control. Estimated damage to the 55-year old house was set at $85,000.
© 2003 Animal News Center, Inc.