I own a farm in the countryside of California, some might say what I have on my property may seem weird and unusual. Some may even say it’s a zoo, I admit, the animals I have are exoctic. I have zebras, ostrich’s, camels, and wolf dogs. I know this sounds absurd but it’s true, I have a small herd of zebras, a couple ostriches, two camels and three wolf dogs. People always ask me why do I have all these animals, I’m never sure how to answer this.
When I first moved to my farm I was intending on making it a dairy farm. I had a friend in Georgia who had a pregnant wolfdog and she just found out that they were illegal in Georgia so she asked if I wanted them and I guessed since I had the space I might as well take them in.
Soon word got out that I was accepting exotic animals and soon I had camels, zebras and ostriches. It had happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly. It was something I had to fit into my schedule, which wasn’t hard. I had a friend help me build fences to hold all of the animals. Soon I had my own zoo, they were my life.
Word had spread of my exotic zoo, and soon became a tourist hotspot. But all the crowds upset the animals so I had to stop letting people come. But the story I want to tell you is something I can never forget. It happened a year after I had started the exotic farm, a big thunderstorm had started rolling in. I brought the wolfdogs inside, and moved the others into the barn. I spent the rest of the day moving things so they don’t get blown away by the wind. Rain was already falling by the time I had finished.
Achak, the wolfdog mother, was sitting by the door, as if expecting me. I found Mishka and Lobo asleep in my bed, I smiled, they did that since they were pups.
“Come on Achak, let’s go,” I said, patting my side. She followed me to the couch and jumped onto my lap, which she was too big and crushed me.
“Okay, I’ve told you not to do that,” I groaned, shoving her off me. The wind started howling and soon the pups came out of my room and curled up around my feet. Thunder sounded in the distance, the storm was becoming fiercer and fiercer with every passing second.
The wind blew the window open, spreading a cold breeze through the room. I got up to close it when I smelled something like smoke. I stuck my head out and saw orange flames erupting from the barn. I stood there for a moment just looking out in horror at the scene. Then something clicked, my animals were stuck in there and I had to rescue them. I ran to my side table and quickly dialed 911.
“Hello what is your emergency?” the operator said.
“My barn is on fire and my animals are inside,” I said, my voice shaking.
“Okay, what is your address?” the operator went on calmly. I gave them my address and was told firefighters were on their way. But I couldn’t wait for them to come while my animals got burned alive. I furrowed my brow in frustration, I knew what I had to do.
I grabbed my raincoat and ran outside into the downpour. I squinted my eyes against the storm. I fought the wind and made my way through the sodden ground. The smell of smoke is strong in the air.
I finally got to the burning barn, the heat was burning my eyes. I could hear the cries of the animals mixed with the sounds of sirens approaching. I turned and saw them coming, they were still too far, I had to go in. I pulled my rain coat over my mouth and nose and went in.
I saw Marty, the oldest zebra, trying to kick the barn door down, black soot making his white stripes look gray. Piles of hay had fallen in front of the door. I started throwing the hay bales to the side. They were hot and burned my hands but I didn’t care. I reached the latch and opened it. All the zebras, led by Marty, ran out the door into the rain.
Before I could turn to the other animals I heard the firefighters coming, I didn’t want to but I ran outside to meet them.
I coughed gulping in the cool air. I couldn’t see where the zebras had gone. Through the rain I saw the fire truck parked alongside the dirt road. I started waving and yelling to get their attention.
My hands had an odd tingling sensation. I looked down and realized they had been severely burned by the fire. I didn’t care, all I cared about was getting my animals to safety. I saw the firefighters unrolling the hose from the engine.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marty running towards the other side of the land, but all that was there was forest. I bit my lip, thinking what to do. Thinking, or more so hoping, that they had just ran in that direction just to get away from the smoke. I couldn’t dwell too long on this fact as I could hear the other animals crying out.
I turned back towards the burning barn, I could hear the firefighter yelling that I get away from there. But despite their yells and warnings I ran inside again, this time moving to the middle stall.
The ostriches were running around like toddlers hyped up on sugar. I talked to them as calmly as I could while trying not to inhale smoke.
“It’s ok, just calm down,” I said, moving slowly to the stall. My eyes had started watering from the heat and smoke. The stall was easier to open as there was no hay bale in front of it. I opened the door and a wave of feathers shot past, feathers stuck to my sweaty head. I squinted through the heat and saw Amorita, the youngest ostrich, was cowering in the corner. Her leg looked severely burned.
I quickly crossed to the other side of the stall, I stooped down and picked her up. She was shaking uncontrollably. As I was making my way back outside I started getting dizzy and lightheaded. I felt consciousness melting away from me, but then I felt a pair of strong arms take hold of me and soon felt cool air on my face.
Soon I was coughing and laying on the damp ground. I could no longer smell smoke but there was now a stale burnt smell. I realized someone was nipping at my arm, I turned to see who it was and saw Amorita pecking my arm. I raised my arm and started stroking her neck.
I saw out of the corner of my eye the rest of the ostriches huddled in a group, a few feet away I saw Chico and Conky were standing close together looking unhurt but frightened. But the zebras were nowhere to be seen.
Tentatively I got to my feet. I looked around and saw my barn was reduced to a pile of ash.
“Are you ok Miss?” one of the firefighters asked me. I couldn’t find my voice to speak so I just nodded slowly.
My life, my world, it was all gone. It was a numb feeling an empty place in my heart. I could feel tears stinging my eyes.
“We need to look for them,” I said in a shaky voice. The firefighters looked confused.
“Who do we need to look for?” one asked.
“My zebras, they ran off in that direction,” I replied, pointing in the direction they ran. “we need to find them.”
“But that could take forever, who knows how far they could have gone,”
“And if we keep standing here talking they’ll get deeper in and we’ll have no chance of finding them. I’m going whether you like it or not,” I said my chest heaving. I stared at the shocked firefighters, then I turned and started walking back to the house.
When I got to the door I heard Achaks booming bark and heard her scratching.
“Come on, we’ve got some zebras to find,” Achak barked in reply. We were trudged through the muddy ground, the rain now a slight drizzle. Achak and her pups running ahead.
We were about to enter the trees when someone put their hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw the firefighters all coming up behind me.
“Let’s search in pairs,” the closest firefighter said. The one holding my shoulder nodded, letting go of my shoulder, indicating we should move forward. Achak led the way, her nose on the ground like a magnet to a fridge.
After a few hours of hopeless searching we heard rustling in the distance. My eyes opened and my ears perked up. I saw some movement from behind the brush. Not wanting to wait a second longer I ran through the brush into the clearing.
I saw the zebras huddled together, a few had hairs burned off and others covered in soot.
“We found them!” I cried, hugging the closet one.
“I’ll radio the others,” Conner, the firefighter, said. I nodded, I went around making sure all of them were there. Soon the rest of the firefighters were there and we led them back to the others.
A few weeks after this incident I already had a plan to rebuild my barn. For the time being I kept the animals in their pens outside. My hands got treated for burns and I was able to get back to a somewhat normal life with zebras, ostriches, camels, and wolfdogs as pets.