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December 26 started out in a horrible and terrifying way. I was awake for less than ten minutes when someone started pounding on my door and screaming for me. It was a neighbor, telling me that smoke was coming from my house; actually, it was coming from the granny flat behind my house, where a single father and his two children live. He and the children were not home, but I knew he had a dog that was in there, Andie.

The dog was accessible only through one window, as the gate was locked. As I contemplated breaking it, the neighbor shouted at me to not attempt it, as it could make the fire worse or cause a backdraft.

Frightened and feeling helpless, I ran back to my house, which is less than 15 feet away, to get my cat out in case the fire spread. In my robe and pajamas, I scrambled for my cat and purse. My neighbor told me to start getting out whatever is important and began to help me move a few items out of the house. (I was in the process of moving, and all my stuff was already in boxes.) It started pouring rain while I brought out items from my house.

Frightened by the fire truck that pulled up, my cat ran back inside and under my bed, where he slipped in through a tear in the box springs to hide. He refused to come out. Thankfully, the fire department arrived in less than ten minutes and put the fire out pretty fast. I was told to stay out of my house until they contained the blaze; my worry over my kitty and the poor dog had me physically shaking.

Less than five minutes later, firefighters brought out Andie and started working on her in my driveway. It was excruciating to witness, but the effort they put into trying to save her is something I will never forget. They had an oxygen mask on her and had taped little monitors on her as well. They worked on her for over ten minutes, doing CPR. Sadly, Andie succumbed. They covered her with a blanket and I began to cry. I felt like she might have made it.

My poor neighbor was going to be home any minute (I had called my landlord, who alerted him), and his beloved pet was in my driveway. That was the worst part of all of it. When I saw him walking up, my heart sank. A few minutes later, after speaking with the firefighters, he came to the driveway and knelt over her, crying. I hugged him and we cried.

Thanks to my next-door neighbor’s quick action, my house was safe. As horrible as this situation was, my faith in our society was renewed by it. The effort to save Andie left me feeling gratitude and admiration for the fire department; the neighbors’ concern, generosity, and sympathy were so kind. Our mail lady gave the single dad all of her modest holiday tips.

My neighbor began filtering through his damaged possessions the same day; he lost almost all of his and his children’s belongings. The smoke damage was terrible due to the small size of the unit. He is self-employed as a pond-and-aquarium specialist. Aside from Andie, he lost a bearded dragon and several fish. Seeing the dragon dead in the tank was also heartbreaking.

I'm moving out this weekend, back home to Northern California. As sad as I am to leave San Diego, I am thankful to not have to have a daily reminder of this tragedy every time I go out onto my deck. I will take with me my renewed faith in the kindness of strangers and recall the outpouring of support for my neighbor's family by this community, especially all of the churches of La Mesa that have found him temporary housing as well as gifts for the kids and clothes.

I always have been so thankful for any man or woman that puts on a uniform and risks their life daily to protect us citizens, I just never realized they do this for our pets as well. I also want this to be a reminder to every household of how important smoke detectors are. Unfortunately, my neighbor did not have one in working order.

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Mercy Baron Dec. 30, 2012 @ 10:10 p.m.

Wow, what a story Bonny. I'm so sorry for your neighbor's loss....dog and material belongings.

My son is a firefighter here in San Diego. I'm very proud of the hard job he does. You better believe those losses affect them too. Children and animals are so helpless, it always hurts even more.


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