Fire at Home for Life!!!

Above: Sandy's townhouse engulfed in flames.
Early Monday morning, February 8th, at about 1 am, Tammy, one of our overnight staff discovered "Sandy's Townhouse" was on fire. Thank God we have always had on-call night staff who monitor any sick animals overnight plus ensure the facility is secure; and thank goodness Tammy, who was on duty Sunday night, was on her toes. She smelled smoke and went to investigate the source, found smoke coming from Sandy's townhouse, and upon going inside saw that the wall was on fire. Tammy called Lisa, the Executive Director, and then both Tammy and Lisa called the fire department. Tammy located a fire extinguisher and got the three dogs out to safety, but the fire was beyond an extinguisher. Lisa also called one of our staff, Grace, who lives the closest to the sanctuary, and even though she had already worked a long day, she came in to help and support Tammy. Together they got the dogs moved so they were indoors and warm as it was well below zero.

The fire department responded with 8 trucks and it was soon a complete madhouse out there with dogs barking and the firemen trying to get the fire under control and prevent it from spreading.  We had some frightening moments as they couldn't get the hoses working at first because it was so cold.

Above: the heartbreaking aftermath: the townhouse is a total loss.
In the end, we were very lucky. None of the three dogs who lived in the townhouse were hurt or killed or even had smoke inhalation-they were just grumpy at having been woken up in the middle of the night. Sandy's townhouse is a total loss, but we have insurance and will rebuild on the site. Now, we are waiting for the adjuster to come out and assess the damage before we demolish it and build it anew. It was our oldest townhouse and the cause of the fire was electrical. We are extremely lucky the fire didn't spread to any of the other buildings where other animals live. The biggest hassle is that the dogs are displaced now and especially when so cold, but it's a minor issue compared to the heartbreak had we lost any of our precious animals.

Above: Our overnight staff person, Tammy, who saved the lives of the three dogs,
Sandy, Yasmin and Tina.
We can't thank Tammy and Grace enough for being there, handling the situation, and getting the dogs to safety. We are also grateful to the members of the fire department who responded so quickly in the middle of the night when it was so cold and made sure the facility was safe and that the fire was out.  It was a harrowing experience but could have been so much worse ... So that was how our Monday started-we hope your winter going a bit better!

Above: Tammy with Tina the boxer whose life was saved from the fire.
Some have asked how they can help Home for Life®. We have insurance that will cover the rebuild of Sandy's townhouse, yet we are concerned now for the welfare of all our dogs who reside in the other 15 dog townhouses. All the townhouses were wired by master electricians and use electric heat which has been safe, but it seems we have been given a second chance to reconsider a better option. Our heating contractor and director of facilities maintenance are strongly recommending we go to a ductless system that would provide both heat and cooling, and which are units used often in residential housing so safe and code compliant.
Above: Home for Life® animal care specialist Grace, with Sandy.
Grace came in to help
Tammy even after a long day working.
Each unit costs $898 and we have 16 dog townhouses to outfit. The total needed is $13,500.  Sandy's new unit will be covered by insurance.  Your tax-deductible gift will ensure the safety of the Home for Life® dogs. We take Paypal or you can give via credit or debit card or by EFT via your savings or checking account. Click here to donate.

We know a heating unit is not the "sexiest" ask but it's one of those support structures for the care of the animals that can make a life or death difference as was emphasized all too clearly Monday morning when Sandy's townhouse nearly burned to the ground. Click here for more information about the recommended heating units.


Fire Recovery
We want to give heartfelt thanks to all of our donors who so generously provided support to Home for Life® in the aftermath of the tragic fire in February. Although the townhouse which burned is a total loss, we are so thankful that all 3 dogs who lived there were saved and that the fire didn't spread--this was due to the heroic efforts of our courageous overnight staff person Tammy and the extraordinary effort of the volunteer fire department who responded within minutes of receiving the call for help--8 trucks strong--and in the middle of the night in subzero weather. We had many harrowing moments that night including when the firemen couldn't get the hoses to work because it was so cold--minus 23 below! But in the end, everyone was safe despite the frightening, close call.
Above: The fire was so hot and destructive that it burned the blades off the overhead fan
Insurance coverage will pay for the cost of rebuilding "Sandy's" townhouse and your gifts will help us provide safer heating systems for our other townhouses.This incident gave us the opportunity to reevaluate the heating source for all of the townhouses and consider safer alternatives.
Above: the dumpster in front of the burned townhouse as demolition proceeds.
After all the inspections, evaluations and visits from insurance adjusters, we are ready to rebuild. Demolition has begun and Sandy's new townhouse will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the burned building. By the time winter rolls around again, we will have safer heating systems installed in all the other dog townhouses.      
To get a first person account of that harrowing night, check out this article below from the Inter-County Leader  which interviewed our employee Tammy, who was there that night and saved the dogs' lives.

reprint of article
 from the Inter-County Leader
Thu, February 25, 2021  |  By Greg Marsten | Staff writer
Local woman saves disabled dogs from fire ... several times  
Above: Overnight staff person,
Tammy, who saved the lives
of the three dogs,
Sandy, Yasmin, and Tina.

STAR PRAIRIE - Recent subzero temperature taxed quite a few local heating systems, leaving many to rely on woodstoves, extra layers and electric space heaters to keep warm, which appears to be behind a fire that nearly rolled through the Home For Life Animal Sanctuary in southern Polk County on Monday, Feb. 8.

The shelter has been at that location for over 20 years, housing approximately 200 animals, fairly evenly split between cats and dogs. Many of the animals are special needs - disabled, elderly or stricken with other health or mental issues.

According to the report, it was minus 23 degrees and headed for a low of minus 26 at around 1 a.m. at the vast array of buildings that make up the animal sanctuary, when the smell crept in.  

"It was during 'quiet time,' midnight to 2 a.m. is usually the slowest time of the night," stated Tammy Doughty, the animal specialist who was midway through her 12-hour shift after cleaning, feeding and medicating some of the animals. Doughty noticed a weird, out-of-place odor in the main building.

"It smelled like a woodstove, but we don't burn wood ... and we're inside," Doughty recalled. Home for Life houses its variety of animals across 40 acres, in three main buildings and 16 "townhouses," which are a variety of small, insulated and heated sheds with individual pens for the animals, depending on each one's size and needs.

The arctic cold woke up her nose even more outside, and after getting a coat on and stumbling into the dark, with only a headlamp, she followed the acrid odor to a neighboring outbuilding for several dogs, nicknamed "Sandy's Townhouse," and she quickly saw that it was the source, with a bizarre glow coming from inside.

"It was mesmerizing ... the space heater and the (electrical) cord were glowing bright, and the color of lava," she said stoically. "The cord almost looked liquid! It was the most bizarre thing, even through the smoke."

She immediately fought through the smoke and attempted to wrangle out the three dogs who "lived" in the building. Doughty grabbed the closest dog, Sandy, who is a "resident" due to anxiety issues, but she was happy to get out of the smoke-filled cage and tiny town house.

Doughty then tracked down leashes in the smoke, and found a way to pull out "Yaz,"a large, three-legged, paraplegic dog who was trapped with the fast-swelling fire, now spread from "lava-esque" space heater into the wall insulation, which was the apparent source of the heavy smoke.

"I was able to get her out through her exercise pen," Doughty said. "There was hole in the panel of the exercise gate."

As she pulled the paraplegic dog through the gate, she was also fighting the freezing cold, and she couldn't just leave the dogs tied up outside at minus 23, so she had to take them to a spot out of the cold, across the parking lot.

One dog, Tina, was left in the building, and while the special needs dog was none too happy about being woken up, she was even more upset about being thrust into the daggers of the subzero temps after Doughty pulled her out.

"She just kept going back in through the doggie door, because it was so cold outside!" Doughty said with a sigh, noting that she had to save the dog a total of three times, getting bitten a few times along the way. "She's kind of nippy ... even when she's being saved!"

With all three dogs out, she secured the spot on a porch across the parking lot to keep them wrangled, found another leash and called 911 and the sanctuary's founder and director, Lisa LaVerdiere.

Above: This is a scene from the             
Allied Fire response to
extinguish the blaze at the
animal sanctuary in 23-below-
zero temperatures,
at 1 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 8.

Doughty said she found a fire extinguisher pretty quickly, but after looking into the now critter-free town house, she fell back on her early childhood and didn't open the door to fight the flames.
"I remembered my second-grade fire safety training!" Doughty half-joked, on why she chose not to try battle the blaze on her own, with just a small extinguisher, now that the animals were out. "When the fire department opened that door, the flames went 30 feet high!"

She also pointed out that the tiny, glowing building was directly beside one of the major buildings at the sanctuary, home to the "cattery," where many dozens of cats and other animals reside, including a 50-pound tortoise.  
Doughty said a first responder from the Allied Fire Department responded within a couple of minutes, with a bevy of fire equipment showing up moments later. Eight fire trucks and many firefighters responded, getting the blaze under control before it had a chance to jump to the neighboring building. The cold temps also tested all the equipment and firefighters who saved the sanctuary, and possibly dozens, if not hundreds of animals' lives.

"God bless them!" Doughty said of the volunteer firefighters. "That's a big ask for your neighbors, way out in the middle of nowhere ... and it was so cold!"

The quick response kept the blaze at bay, and with so many animals caged in the sanctuary buildings, it could have been much, much worse. "In the end, we were very lucky. None of the three dogs who lived in the town house were hurt or killed or even had smoke inhalation," LaVerdiere said. "They were just grumpy at having been woken up in the middle of the night!"

Above: Home for Life® animal
care specialist Grace, with Sandy
(one of the rescued dogs
from the building by Tammy),
outside his burned townhouse the
morning after the fire. Grace
came in to help Tammy even
after a long day of working.
This is the outside of the
small outbuilding that caught
fire, which nearly spread
to neighboring buildings at
the Home For Life Animal
Sanctuary near Star Prairie.

Doughty concurred, joking about how one of the firefighters was greeted by a sanctuary "resident," a very opinionated rescue bird that is adept at English.

"The firefighters were going through the building looking for the fuse box and the bird kept yelling 'Shut up! Shut up!'" Doughty said with a cough. She said she was coughing and laughing a bit after the bird's yelling, and joked that she inhaled "about a cigarette's worth" of smoke during the dog removal. 
"I'm just lucky I smelled it, and investigated, I guess. It was so out of control, I'm just happy I got all the dogs out," she added.

Keeping the fire limited was a sigh of relief for LaVerdiere, as well.
"Tammy was just a hero that night and we are so grateful. ... We are extremely lucky the fire didn't spread to any of the other buildings where other animals live," LaVerdiere stated, adding that there were plenty of frightening moments and that the firefighters had to work to limit the fire spread amid a raucous chorus of anxious dogs.

"The biggest hassle is that the dogs are displaced, and especially when it was so cold, but it's a minor issue compared to the heartbreak had we lost any of our precious animals," LaVerdiere said. "It was a harrowing experience but could have been so much worse."

Above: the heartbreaking aftermath:
the townhouse is a total loss
What is Home for Life?
While the recent incident had a happy ending, many of the animals at the unique facility have tragic stories already, and adding a fire to that would have been beyond sad.

As noted earlier, Home For Life animal sanctuary is located near Star Prairie, and is often a literal "last stop" for a variety of neglected, abused or disabled pets. Some of them have heartbreaking stories of abuse or abandonment, literally from around the world.
LaVerdiere founded Home for Life animal sanctuary in the summer of 1997, and it has been the final home for hundreds of animals since. She moved it to the 40-acre Star Prairie location in February 1999.

The sanctuary is also behind several community outreach programs, such as Pet Peace Corps. As noted, the sanctuary's residents are often the victims of past rejection and neglect, and now many of the animals have become ambassadors of sorts, "Rehabilitated to give back, working with volunteers and staff to help people who themselves may have been overlooked: children affected by domestic violence, at-risk teens and the elderly."
The animals are not offered for adoption, and often have unique, special needs, disabilities, dietary needs or paralysis, or in several awful examples, are the survivors of horrific abuse, like the dog that survived having fireworks put in its mouth.
"He's literally one of the sweetest, nicest animals there!" Doughty commented.

They currently house approximately 200 animals, with 30 of the cats testing positive for feline leukemia, which is a sort of death sentence for them.

The facility can accommodate up to 250 animals at one time, but once an animal arrives at Home for Life, it has just that: a home for life. As a nonprofit organization, they are often looking for donations for their unique cause. According to LaVerdiere, Home for Life depends on the support of sponsors, donors and foundations.

"Shortfalls are made up, out of pocket, by our own board members," LaVerdiere said. "Fundraising is always a major concern as we do not receive any government subsidization."

They also have a number of employees and volunteers, as well as other outreach programs and educational services.
The Home for Life animal sanctuary also leads an effort for people to accept animals that develop health issues later in life, to avoid "putting them down" so quickly.  

"Through our example, we hope to discourage an acceptance of euthanasia for animals who can still live a quality life. Just as apathy can become a way of life, so can empathy," the Home for Life site states.

Home for Life is a 501c(3) nonprofit, and donations are tax-deductible and can be sent to Home For Life, P.O. Box 847, Stillwater, MN 55082. Donations can also be sent online at

Read more about the February fire at Home for Life and see more photos here: Fire at Home for Life!! | Home for Life