Dog Found 'Protecting' Surviving House in Her Neighborhood After Camp Fire: 'She's Doing Great'
While her home didn't survive the Camp Fire blaze, Ella the border collie did
While her home didn’t survive the Camp Fire blaze, Ella the border collie did.
Leahna Copsey’s house in Paradise, California, was destroyed in the devastating wildfire — as were many on the block. Though one remained standing, and when authorities arrived to survey the damage, they found the family’s dog, Ella, standing watch over the surviving residence.
“She was protecting it,” Copsey told Visalia Times-Delta. “She was protecting the only house left on the block.”
On Thursday, when the devastating California blaze first began, Leahna had no idea that the fire would reach the home she shared with her husband and daughters so quickly.
“We did not get an evacuation order until 4 p.m. that day,” her 24-year-old daughter Kayla Westman tells PEOPLE, adding that while her mother could see smoke in the sky, the fire was still in Pulga, “which is a whole bridge away from where we live in Paradise.”
Although Leahna eventually decided to leave Paradise to travel to the nearby town of Chico with two of her daughters — Emma, 10, and Clarissa, 8 — to escape the smoke, she was under the assumption that they would be able to return later that day.
And if the family couldn’t make the trip back home, the plan was always for Westman, who was already driving back to Paradise from Sacramento, to stop by the house to pick up the rest of their belongings, including Ella.
But the situation in Paradise quickly took a turn for the worse.
“As soon as my mom and sisters hit the main road, that’s when they realized how serious it was. They weren’t able to move,” Westman tells PEOPLE. “There’s people all of a sudden running out of their cars because traffic’s not moving and the fire, all of a sudden, was that close. Nobody really knew it was going to jump that quickly when all of us were thinking. ‘Oh, it’s aways away, we have a day or more,’ you know?”
Westman — who was traveling a different route — was also unable to reach home, and her mother quickly reached out to see who they could contact to make sure Ella was safe.
The family got the word out to animal control and the local police, who were able to keep tabs on Ella, and leave her food and water.
Finally on Sunday, three days after her family had been forced to evacuate, animal control was able to safely enter the area and transport Ella to an animal hospital in Chico.
“We were overjoyed to know that she made it through the fire,” Westman tells PEOPLE.
Westman quickly headed over to meet her pooch at the hospital.
“They bandaged her up, treated her burns and then I was able to take her home that night, and bring her in the next day for them to treat the burns and have them soak the feet,” she tells PEOPLE.
Like her family, Westman — who had only just returned to Paradise from Utah the day before the fire — had to evacuate, and has been staying with a former roommate in Chico.
Since coming back home, Westman says that Ella is “still super energetic, like she always has been.”
“She’s wanting to play. She loves squeeky toys,” she continues, adding that for the time being, the dog is “using her mouth to fling them around” because she knows she can’t use her paws yet.
“But she’s doing great for what she went through and what she is going through,” Westman shares. “There are a lot of other dogs that are in much worse condition, so we’re just really grateful that she came out like she did.”
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Westman created a GoFundMe to help cover Ella’s medical costs, and as of Sunday, she had already met her fundraising goal.
However, while both Ella and her family are doing well, Westman says they’ve had to deal with online backlash from those who thought the family had deliberately left their dog behind.
“People are reacting in such a negative way. It’s almost like cyberbullying because they’re just jumping to these conclusions and saying we’re horrible people,” Westman tells PEOPLE. “And it’s times like this that we all need to all just be with each other, supporting each other and be as one and not be so against people, especially when they don’t know what happened.”
“When it comes down to it, Ella knows how much we all love her and she loves us. And it was never a leaving a dog behind situation. We would never do that,” she says, again stressing that her mother thought she was going to be able to return to the house.
For now, Ella is currently residing with the rest of Westman’s family, who are staying with a friend in Clearlake.
“They now have taken her so I can go back to work and she’s with someone at all times there,” Westman shares.
As of Sunday morning, the Camp Fire is still just 60 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.