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Animal Heroes

Circle of Love: This Hero Dog Alerted His Family to a Fire and Saved Lives — And Then Students’ Donation Saved His Life

This pup's full-circle rescue story will touch your heart — and proves the loyalty of our four-legged friends

Husband and wife Steve Mehnert and Jen Vaughn were enjoying a barbecue with their trusty dog, Koda, by their side. The Brookfield, Wisconsin-based couple had adopted the frisky Great Pyrenees-Lab mix a year earlier. Koda was instantly friendly (hence his name, a Native American word for “friend”) and soon enough he grew to 90 pounds — a true gentle giant. Steve and Jen knew Koda was special from the beginning, but after their barbecue took a dark turn, they saw just how capable their dog really was.

A hero dog gives a howl of warning

Following their barbecue, Steve and Jen went to bed as Koda curled up downstairs on the living room sofa. All were soon sleeping but at 5 am, Koda suddenly started barking. He would often bark if a neighborhood cat wandered by the house at night, but now he was howling like never before.

As Steve went to see what Koda was up to, he spotted an ominous glow coming from the back of the house. Earlier, he had emptied the grill ashes from the barbecue into a metal bucket. Strong winds had blown the still-hot embers and ignited the back of the house. When Steve opened the door, the fresh oxygen sucked the flames inside. Steve screamed for Jen to get out as the fire alarm began to blare.

Steve and Jen's house on fire
Steve and Jen’s house was ablazeBrookfield Fire Department

Jen grabbed her phone and called 911 as she felt her way down the smoky stairs and joined Steve in the yard. The couple quickly became anxious as they realized they couldn’t find Koda. Steve raced back into the house, looking everywhere for the dog before being driven out by the smoke. He tried multiple times, emerging coughing and alone.

The firefighters arrived, and while the rest of the squad battled flames, firefighter/paramedics J.P. Kronschnabel and Brandon Rachwal began searching for Koda. Finally, they found him sprawled and unmoving on the kitchen floor. Each grabbing two legs, the men carried the pup outside. Jen and Steve feared the worst.

A gift proves to be a lifesaver

Thankfully, Koda was able to survive the fire. Three years earlier, students at Brookfield Central High School’s Promoting Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) had been looking for a good cause for their fundraiser. When they learned that many animals perish because fire departments aren’t equipped with pet-sized oxygen masks, they raised money and donated two kits, each containing three different size pet masks, to their local department.

Pet masks that the school donated
Pet masks donated by the PAWS student group at Brookfield Central High SchoolBrookfield Fire Department

The firefighters hadn’t yet had to use them, but they ended up saving Koda’s life. Brandon fitted one of the largest masks over Koda’s snout and turned on the oxygen while J.P. massaged the dog’s chest. Suddenly, Koda’s stomach lurched as the clear mask grew foggy with his breath. He then began squirming. Jen and Steve gave joyful thanks.

Koda posing with the firefighter who saved him
Hero dog Koda posing with one of the Brookfield firefighters who saved his lifeBrookfield Fire Department

Following this full-circle lifesaving moment for their hero dog, the couple went to the hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation and burns.

Koda receiving treatment at the hospital after the incident
Koda feeling back to himself after a check-up at the pet ERBrookfield Fire Department

Meanwhile, a neighbor took Koda to the pet ER, and a few days later, he was reunited with his people — thanks to the oxygen he was given. The fire department then invited the PAWS club members to meet Koda and see the difference their gift had made.

Brookfield Central High School's PAWS group visiting Koda at the fire department
Brookfield Central High School’s PAWS group visiting Koda at the fire departmentBrookfield Fire Department

“We were all so excited,” says club advisor and English teacher Jamie Silver. “We’re already planning another fundraiser so we can provide kits to other area departments.”

“The fire had engulfed the attic and filled our bedroom with carbon monoxide. Firefighters said another five minutes and Steve and I never would have woken up,” says Jen. “Koda saved our lives, but we would surely have lost our best buddy without those masks. Koda saved us, and they saved him. We’ll be forever grateful.”

Brookfield Central High School's PAWS group visiting Koda at the fire department
Brookfield Central High School’s PAWS group visiting Koda the hero dog at the fire departmentBrookfield Fire Department

Read about more heroic dogs here:

This ‘Pupcasso’ Raises Thousands of Dollars For Charity — With Her Own Paintings!

‘Koda the Fluff’: This Convertible-Driving Pup Is Changing Lives One Smile at a Time

The Hero Pups Program Is Giving Our Country’s Heroes a New ‘Leash’ On Life — Here’s How

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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