By Lacey Hughett –
When danger or disaster strikes, good LGD dogs like Odin are priceless. They turn potentially tragic stories into triumphs.
In 2017, multiple wildfires ravaged through California. This is one of our worst fears for anyone who owns livestock. Will we have the time, resources, and an emergency preparedness plan for goat care, should a fire break out? For one man last October this was a very real and frightening situation.
Roland Hendel lives in Northern California and when it came time to evacuate, his animals would not cooperate.
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Roland has a herd of goats and two livestock guardian dogs, Tessa and Odin. Without time to collect his goats, Roland made the spilt-second decision to at least bring his livestock guardian dogs to safety. Tessa reluctantly came with him while Odin steadfastly refused. He chose to stay with his herd and guide them through the flames. Roland grudgingly left, torn between his and his daughter’s safety and the desire to protect his animals. He was devastated knowing that he had just signed their death warrants.
Upon returning to his home, he saw the overwhelming destruction. But his goats, Odin, and a couple very lucky deer waited to greet him, happy and healthy. Due to the stubborn actions of one amazing LGD dog, Roland’s herd survived the Tubbs fire, one so massive and dangerous that it has made history. Although Roland’s entire farm was gone, he escaped with the lives of his family and livestock.
This amazing story went viral for a couple of weeks and Roland received an outpouring of support and love. With the good comes the bad, unfortunately, and he also received some negative press for leaving his animals. In an impossible situation, he did the best he could in the time he had. And it was the right call.
I recently had a conversation with Roland to get an update on how everyone is doing. Currently, he lives separate from his animals while he focuses on repairs. Odin and Tessa are still with the goat herd. They reside at a sanctuary called Goatlandia, for which Roland is incredibly grateful.
“I can’t say enough great things about them. They are taking care of everyone completely free of charge.”
I questioned Roland about Odin’s health after the fire, and if Odin took any time off to rest. He laughed and told me that Odin refused to take a break.
“This is a dog that truly loves working,” he said fondly. “Odin has settled into his role as a guardian to not only the goats, but the house and property as well.” After the fire, he had some singed fur and whiskers, but once a local veterinarian applied salve to his paws, he was back out with the herd.
The goats have all recovered as well. At first, it was difficult for the herd to adapt to their new temporary home at Goatlandia. They went from full roaming rights over a 35-acre homestead to living in a pasture. One of the goats appeared to have PTSD from the Tubbs fire. She was aggressive with the other goats and afraid of everyone for a few weeks. Once Odin and Tessa were able to stay with the herd full time, all the goats settled down and eventually went back to their old selves.
One of Roland’s fears was that Odin wouldn’t trust him after being left behind. It was quite the opposite! Odin was pleased with himself. He wanted praise and enjoyed being trusted to do his job.
I asked about how Odin and Tessa were trained, and Roland said they were simply raised with the herd. Odin, even as a young pup, did not like being underutilized, and would show signs of wanting more work. Both dogs have roles. Tessa guards the land closest to where the house once stood, whereas Odin patrols all 35 acres.
Now that life has settled down a little, Roland has begun planning to rebuild his homestead. He told me how agonizing it is to be away from his animals. Currently, he and his daughter rent a house in nearby Calistoga, California, and if they are lucky they can visit the animals weekly. Renting is expensive, and rebuilding an entire farm from the ground up is even more so. Roland is eager to get a move on because the quicker he can rebuild, the sooner he can bring his animals home.
His planning will take part in stages. Currently, he has no water or electricity on his property, so the first hurdle will be regaining access to those commodities. Once that is done, he plans to move his family into a yurt (essentially a tent) so he doesn’t have to commute to his acreage while he rebuilds. He knows that this is no easy road he’s on, but he hasn’t let his situation get him down. In the few moments we spoke, he struck me as a humble and determined individual with brilliant ideas of not only rebuilding his farm but also making it better.
Roland is an Environmental Systems Engineer with a passion for sustainability. He used to talk about building new, energy-efficient housing, but now Roland sees this as a novel opportunity. It takes a fundamentally strong person to experience a natural disaster on this level and be grateful for the chance to create a better building model. He wants to use fire-resistant earthbags for walls, solar panels, composting toilets, and wind energy while documenting the entire process for the sake of education.
In the future, Roland and Odin will have a blog we can follow, but for now, they can be found on his Facebook page, Odin the Fearless. Readers who wish to help Roland and his family permanently reunite with their livestock and dogs can access their Youcaring.com page, Water and Shelter for Odin, Tessa, and Their Goats. Roland is also grateful for all the donations made to Goatlandia for the wonderful care of LGD dogs Odin and Tessa, and of the herd.
Originally published in the May/June 2018 issue of Goat Journal.