Jami Greene-Verga has multiple sclerosis. So when her labrador, Penny, had a litter of puppies recently, she decided to sell the pups to raise funds for the MS Society.
Jami had already sold two puppies by March 1. That day, as she was getting ready to leave for work from her duplex in Hallsville, Jami put Penny in her crate inside the home.
She also set up a space heater and rug inside the garage for the five remaining puppies — one white lab, three yellows and a little black one, the runt of the litter.
But sometime after Jami left for work, the space heater malfunctioned and exploded, setting the garage ablaze.
At about 3 p.m., Jami received a panicked call from her landlord, who said the duplex was “in flames.” Jami left work and rushed home, concerned about the puppies.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was coming home to,” Jami said. “I just prayed about it.”
As Jami was on her way, Boone County Fire Protection District crews were already fighting the fire. Two Boone Hospital Center ambulances teams were also on site, prepared to help in any way they could — an early report said there might be a person in the home.
However, all were relieved to find out no one was inside. Penny, the mother dog, was also found safe.
But the emergency responders soon learned about the puppies, which were still inside the smoky garage.
“When you are told there are puppies inside, your heart just drops,” said Elena Tuttle, one of four Boone Hospital ambulance crew members on the scene.
Firefighters entered the garage and found two puppies. They brought them outside and handed the pups to Larry Oerly, a Boone Hospital ambulance crew member. A few minutes later, the firefighters emerged with two more pups.
Larry and Elena, along with Boone Hospital ambulance crew members Don Whitaker and Hillary Brown, treated the wet, coughing puppies as best they could.
“They had soot on them and they had breathed a lot of smoke,” Larry said.
Since two of the puppies seemed sluggish, the Boone Hospital crews gave the dogs a breathing treatment and administered oxygen.
“We just took our oxygen mask and put their noses in it,” Larry said. “We did as well as we could because we don’t have anything that fits a dog.”
With the treatments, the puppies soon perked up.
Jami, her son, and her three step-daughters arrived home as the puppies were recovering. They noticed one dog — the little black runt of the litter — was still missing.
“The children got home and they wanted to know where the other puppy was, we did not know there was a fifth puppy,” Elena said.
As the firefighters went back inside the garage, the children called out that the puppy often hides behind a gun safe inside the garage. Sure enough, when the gun safe was pulled aside, the little black puppy was hiding there — alive.
While all involved said it was an unusual rescue, Larry predicted the puppies would be fine.
“If you get a snoot full of smoke, you’re going to feel it for a couple days,” he said. “But these puppies were fine. They are as cute as a button.”
The Boone Hospital ambulance workers praised the firefighters for their work to save the puppies. “If it wasn’t for them and their quick response, I don’t think the puppies would have done well,” Elena said.
While the fire caused some damage, Jami and her children were very relieved that Penny and the puppies were saved.
“We are very, very fortunate it wasn’t worse than it was,” Jami said.
After the fire, word spread and Jami quickly sold four puppies, raising additional money for the MS Society. Larry was one of the buyers. He took home a yellow lab he named Smoke.
As of Thursday afternoon, Jami had just one puppy left. She is selling it for $50. If anyone is interested, send a note to email@example.com.
“I just hope somebody would like to have the little black one,” she said.