Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Half-Breed Wolf Dog Hero Rescues Elderly Owners From Snowstorm

By Liza Porteus

NEW YORK — When Eve and Norman Fertig rescued a sick, two-week-old half wolf, half German shepherd puppy from a breeder almost seven years ago, they'd never dreamed that the animal one day would save their lives.

"God is watching; he's watching all the time," Eve Fertig told FOXNews from her home at the Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Alden, N.Y.

He apparently was watching on Oct. 12, when the 81-year-old Fertigs were treating injured animals in the forest sanctuary on their property. One such animal is a near-18-year-old raven, while another is a crow who was shot, blind in one eye with two broken legs.

It was routine for the couple to feed and exercise the dozen or so animals there around 7 p.m. every night.

"While we're in there, the lights go out and I realized something's wrong," Eve Fertig said. "We go outside to see what's happening and down comes one massive tree … the trees came down across us."

The massive storm that hit upstate New York that night felled trees, blocking the Fertig's path to the other sanctuary buildings — such as the school and storage building — and to their home, which was at least 200 feet away.

"We were in big trouble. … I said to my husband, 'I think we could die out here,'" Eve said.

'The Most Heroic Thing I've Ever Seen'

The Fertigs huddled in a narrow alley between the hospital building and the aviary, where they were sheltered from falling trees. They couldn't climb over the trees without injuring themselves. Neither had warm clothes on since it was a clear, crisp fall day just a few hours ago. They hugged each other for warmth, since by 9:30 p.m., temperatures had dropped.

"I wasn't prepared for this … I thought, 'we're trapped, we're absolutely trapped,'" Eve said. "That's when Shana began to dig beneath the fallen trees."

The 160-pound dog that habitually follows her owners around — Eve likens it to "Mary had a little lamb," when the lamb went everywhere Mary went — eventually found the Fertigs and began digging a path in the snow with her teeth and claws underneath the fallen trees, similar to a mineshaft, and barking as if to tell them to follow.

A reluctant Norm said, "I had enough in Okinawa in a foxhole," referring to his service in World War II.

"'Norman, if you do not follow me, I will get a divorce,'" Eve said to her husband of 62 years. "That did it. He said, 'a divorce? That would scandal our family.' I said, 'all of our family is dead, Norman!'"

After Shana tunneled all the way to the house — a process that took until about 11:30 p.m. — she came back, grabbed the sleeve of Eve's jacket, and threw the 86-pound woman over her back and neck, which Eve described as "as wide as our kitchen shelf."

Norman grabbed Eve's legs, and the dog pulled them through the tunnel, under the trees and through an opening in a fence to the house, at which they arrived around 2 a.m.

"It was the most heroic thing I've ever seen in my life," Eve said. "We opened the door and we just fell in and she laid on top of us and just stayed there and kept us alive … that's where we laid until the fireman found us."

There was no electricity and no heat in the house, so Shana acted as a living, breathing generator for the exhausted Fertigs until the local fire department arrived the next morning.

Concerned neighbors — many of whom had children Eve taught — who couldn't get hold of the elderly couple via telephone throughout the night had called the Town Line Fire Department.

But when the fire department urged the Fertigs to go to the firehouse to take shelter along with 100 others, they told them they would have to leave Shana behind.

"We said, 'we don't go anywhere without her.' ... I said, 'we'll stay until the people are gone and we'll take Shana,'" Eve said.

So the couple stayed at home with Shana until Sunday, when the firehouse emptied out. During the three days in a house with no power, heat or hot water, Shana slept with her owners to keep them warm.

"She kept us alive. She really did," Eve said.

Also during that time, firefighters not only helped clear trees from their grounds, but they brought food and water for both human and animal.

"They kept looking at that tunnel and said, 'we've never seen anything like it,'" she said. "I can't thank them enough — they're heroes."

When they went to the firehouse Sunday, Shana followed the Fertigs everywhere, even to the bathroom. And she was 'spoiled rotten' by the fire crews there, Eve said.

She said the fire chiefs said her story of being saved by her pet rejuvenated exhausted fire teams. "The story, they said, just gave them new hope."

A Lesson Learned

Last Thursday, Shana received the Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment's Hero's Award for bravery — an award traditionally given to humans. The plaque, complete with Shana's picture on it, hangs in the Fertigs' living room, along with other pictures of wolves the couple has worked with.

Eve, who teaches courses in Saving Endangered Species and Caring for Injured and Orphaned Wildlife at community colleges and trains animal rehabilitators in New York, said she hopes her story will help further her message of humanity toward animals and educate people about how even a wolf, if treated with care and dignity, can be a "kisser and a hugger" like Shana.

"If you're vicious to a human being, they'll become fighters," Eve said, but even wolves, "once you treat them right and raise them in your house, they're magnificent."

Eve has taught 400 adults to be wildlife rehabilitators. She and her husband are volunteers who pay for their own teaching licenses and caring for the sanctuary animals, out of their Social Security checks every year.

"I've never been on a cruise and I don't shop and I haven't seen a movie in two years," Eve said.

The only time the Fertigs go to the movies is, of course, when they are submitting to a higher calling.

"What I do to get signatures for my petitions, I go to [a] movie that's showing a wolf, horse or whale story," and she and her husband camp out outside the theater and get petitions signed to help save various animals, which they send along to wildlife organizations.

"I have a motto ... joint abilities don't create hostilities," Eve said. "I make it my business to talk to all groups, all conservationists, all hunting clubs, to let them know what they're missing out there."

Editor's Note: The Fertigs rely on food donations to help feed the injured animals they try to rehabilitate at their Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Alden, N.Y. They told FOXNews.com that the Oct. 12 storm completely wiped out their supply of food. The Fertigs would welcome any donations. Please contact them at 716-681-5918 if you would like to donate or volunteer.

Editor's Note II: After this story was published, Eve Fertig contacted FOXNews.com and said she received phone calls from all over the U.S. with people asking about Shana's story and how they can donate food for the Fertigs animals, toys for Shana, or money for their sanctuary. Mrs. Fertig asked that her address be published so people can send such items to them. Their address is:

Mrs. Eve Fertig

Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary

11380 Cary Road

Alden, N.Y. 14004-9547

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