US & Canada

Two sheepdogs protected flock during British Columbia wildfire

Maremma sheepdogs Tad and Sophie Image copyright Courtesy Lynn Landry
Image caption Maremmas have been bred for generations to guard sheep.

Two unlikely heroes saved a flock of sheep from a wildfire raging in Canada's western province of British Columbia (BC).

Lynn Landry was forced to abandon her two Maremma sheepdogs when a wildfire advanced on her ranch outside of the small BC town of 100 Mile House.

But she knew if the dogs managed to survive the fire, they would never abandon their charges.

BC is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record.

The province declared a state of emergency on 7 July.

The day before, on 6 July, Ms Landry said she could see the plume of smoke in the distance. By nightfall, it was worse.

"During the day, they had bombers [dousing the fire with water] and when it got dark, they stopped. And then the whole ridge from our place just went up in flames," she said.

Since 1 April, close to 1,100 fires have destroyed more than one million hectares (nearly 2.5 million acres) at a cost of C$377m ($295m; £230m). And over 45,000 people have been forced out of their homes since early July.

Ms Landry was one of them. On the evening of 6 July, she and her neighbours decided to evacuate.

But they had to leave behind their flock of 90 sheep and their beloved sheepdogs, Tad and Sophie.

"There was nothing we could do," Ms Landry told PRI's The World. "We had to leave."

So they left a 35lb (16kg) bag of dog food and hoped for the best.

The Landrys were not able to come home for 20 days (except briefly to open the gates to let the sheep get water from the lake).

When they finally returned, they saw their neighbours' houses had burned down. There were still helicopters overhead, gathering water from the lake to douse small fires.

Despite all the activity and mayhem, who was sitting in the field but Tad and Sophie, surrounded by the sheep.

"They protected them from wildfires, but also from bears and coyotes," Ms Landry said. "The sheep would never have survived without them."

In the end, the Landrys only lost one ewe, "but she was old," Lynn Landry said.

And while Sophie and Tad were a little clingy around their owners at first, they have since settled down.

"We've given them steak. And a good pat!" said Ms Landry.

In the month since the Landrys came home, the tale of canine bravery has spread. Tad and Sophie have become international heroes, but thankfully, Ms Landry said, the fame has not gone to their heads.

The World is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH. You can listen to more here.

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