When Sharon Gold moved her dog rescue facility, Furever Homes, to Tumwater’s Rural Road on Jan. 1, she thought the new location would be the perfect place to prepare rescued dogs for their new lives.
But only a few days later, 19 of the 35 dogs living in the facility died because of a fire that originated in a dryer.
“It was supposed to be the perfect place for us,” Gold told The Olympian. “It was supposed to be heaven, but it turned into hell.
“All the lives that were lost, how do I ever make that right?”
Furever Homes is a privately run animal rescue facility on the 4900 block of Rural Road Southwest. According to Tumwater Fire Chief Scott LaVielle, a neighbor called 911 about 3 p.m. Thursday after seeing smoke coming from the building, which is a converted home.
Firefighters entered through the front door and quickly found the source of the fire: a dryer that had been left running when no one was there.
As firefighters moved through the building, they noticed several injured and deceased dogs, LaVielle said.
“We know how much animals mean to people, so we try to rescue them,” LaVielle said. “But animals just can’t take a lot of smoke inhalation.”
Firefighters were able to rescue 16 dogs, but attempts to resuscitate others were unsuccessful, LaVielle said.
“It’s a really sad situation when you lose animals because many of them are like people’s relatives,” LaVielle said.
Gold credited firefighters with saving the dogs they could. Most of the surviving dogs were kept in kennels in a separate room that hadn’t been filled with smoke. Firefighters were able to save one puppy from a room near the dryer, and the dog is recuperating at a South Sound animal hospital.
“The fire department worked and worked on them,” Gold said. “They tried so hard and I’m thankful.”
At the time of the fire, Gold was in California. She flew home after learning about the fire, and immediately went to a friend’s house, where the surviving dogs were being kept.
As Gold walked through the home Friday afternoon, she cried as she remembered the dogs that died.
Many were puppies, living with their mothers in rooms near the laundry facility. She said the puppies recently were weaned, and were only weeks away from adoption.
Gold took in one dog, Gracie Lou, after her owner died. The owner’s family wanted to euthanize Gracie Lou, who was overweight and ill. But before she died, Gracie Lou was getting better, Gold said. She died on a couch in the home’s living room.
This isn’t the first time Furever Homes has made headlines. In June 2015, the organization attracted attention from the public and Thurston County Animal Services over the shelter’s conditions. At that time, 85 dogs lived at the Furever Homes facility on 78th Avenue Southwest near the Olympia Regional Airport.
Some Facebook users, such as a page called Advocate for Saving Dogs, called Furever Homes a “rescue scam,” and people commenting on this story on The Olympian’s Facebook page have described Gold as an animal hoarder. She also has been targeted by dog rescue bloggers such as Seattle DogSpot.
Gold said those comments are malicious and have no basis in truth. Washington State Patrol records show that Gold has no criminal history in Washington.
“I comply with every rule, I’ve never been cited or charged,” Gold said. “I make sure all the dogs are spayed and neutered, they have all their vaccinations.”
“I take in dogs that no one else will take. Blind dogs, deaf dogs and pregnant mamas that would have died on the streets of Mexico.”
Other Thurston County residents have been supportive since the fire, Gold said. Several people have stepped up to take in the dogs that survived the fire. Pet store chain Mud Bay donated dog food to the cause, Gold said.
Dryer fires are relatively common, and can be caused by either mechanical malfunctions or lint buildup, LaVielle said. Once lint catches fire, the clothes in the dryer typically ignite, too. It’s unclear what kind of dryer malfunction caused the fire, LaVielle said.
The fire caused about $200,000 worth of damage to the building. No humans were present at the time of the fire, LaVielle said.