Two local heroes stayed behind in the fire zone at the 105 during the Gustafsen fire, diligently doing their duty and making sure those under their charge stayed safe despite the raging fire.
Sophie, 12 and Tad, 6, had 89 sheep under their care, needing protection from coyotes, bears, and, of course, wildfire.
The two are Maremma sheepdogs, guardian dogs that Lynn Landry and her husband Lorne, were forced to leave behind with their sheep when they were evacuated from their home on Abel Lake Road on July 6.
Quickly forced from their homes that evening, the Landrys were only able to leave one gate open for the animals, who were in for the night.
Overnight and into the next day, their neighbours’ houses burned. Fortunately, the Landry’s house was spared.
On Saturday, July 8, the Landrys were allowed a one-hour permit to get to their property.
“We opened all of our gates so they could get out into other fields and they could get to the lake for water,” says Lynn. “We took a 35-pound bag of feed, dog food and opened it and left it there for the dogs so they wouldn’t starve and then that was it. We had to leave. They wouldn’t let us stay, there were spot fires everywhere, fires burning, helicopters going overhead getting water out of the lake. It was like a war zone.”
Still, she says, the dogs stayed with their charges.
“Tad came up to see what was happening, but Sophie stayed with the sheep, so Lorne made a quick run down. Yes, they were okay, they were together and then we left.”
Otherwise, the Landrys were only given access to their property one other time — they had a 10-minute escort by the forest services to run to their property, open a bag of dog food, and leave.
During that trip, they were told that between the SPCA and CDART (the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team) who were looking after animals behind the fire lines, their dogs would be fed. With that in mind, the couple headed to Maple Ridge to wait out the evacuation.
When they were able to go home, shortly on July 24, and then fully on July 25, the dogs and all but one of their ewes were there waiting.
“If only they could talk, I bet they would have quite a story to tell,” Lynn wrote in a Facebook post about the animals.
“I know they would stay with the sheep. It’s a protection thing for them. That’s their job and they would never leave the sheep,” she told the Free Press. “I don’t know with the fire where they would have gathered, probably close to the lake. I would think they would have stayed down closer to the lake, but they had helicopters, they had firemen all over the place.”
Lynn says she started to cry when she got home and saw the dogs and the sheep.
“Tad, the younger one, was just like ‘where the hell have you been.’ That was his attitude. ‘I ran out of steak and I ran out of food.’”
She says the dogs were very cautious the first few nights they were home, but soon Tad warmed back up to them.
“He didn’t want to leave your side once the sheep were in,” she says.
“He was not very nervous but wanted to be sure that we were there. He just wanted reassurance that we were there.”
Between reports of bears, coyotes and the fire, Lynn says the sheep would likely have been dead within a couple of days if the dogs hadn’t stayed behind.
“I can’t imagine for them, with them trying to keep the sheep together, what they thought of the helicopters going overhead and all the flames. It must have been hotter than you can imagine with the flames coming on both sides towards our place.”
While she suspects the helicopters might have seemed more threatening to the dogs than fire, she can’t be sure how the dogs fared through the experience.
“I don’t know they haven’t told us.”
Lynn gives a huge thank you to everyone who was involved in looking after them and caring for them, she says.
“Someone told us they had seen, I don’t know if it was a firefighter or who it was, a couple guys sitting on a log sharing a sandwich with the dogs,” she says.
While much of their pasture burned, Lynn says they’ve got about another month worth left for grazing. After that, they’ll be purchasing hay to keep the sheep going until the lambs are sold in October and into the fall and winter.
Despite surviving a forest fire, the dogs weren’t too badly off.
“[Sophie] was so dirty, both of them had paws, that were just black, but that would be walking into the lake to drink. The sheep looked fine, the sheep weren’t any worse for wear. They were a little dirty some of them, lots of ashes on them, but they were fine. They weren’t skittish, they weren’t panicked.”
While Lynn invites anyone willing to attempt to bath the dogs, she says they’ve received plenty of reward in the way of steaks and pets.
“They are wonderful dogs and they were worth their weight in gold,” she says.