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Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Foster Fail' Dog Miraculously Saves Family of Six Just Before Christmas

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When someone experiences a “foster fail” with a dog, he or she usually ends up benefiting from that “failure” through a lifetime of love and companionship instead of just providing a temporary foster home.

The Haegeman family got more than that: Their foster failure ended up saving their lives.

Gracie is the name of the hero in this story, and she’s a pet who clearly had her family’s best interest at heart.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 22, the family’s Nevis, Minnesota, mobile home caught on fire with all six of them inside. The fire apparently began in the laundry room and quickly spread.

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Gracie, who according to the Park Rapids Enterprise usually sleeps in the parents’ bedroom, had gotten shut out of it and started barking frantically at 5 a.m. She woke up the oldest daughter, Emily, 9, who started screaming and woke up dad Devin Haegeman.

“It was hazy in my room and it smelled nice,” Haegeman said. “It smelled like warm wood, even like a campfire. I build furniture, and it just smelled like warm wood sitting next to a heater. And then I opened my door and I just couldn’t see. So I hollered at my wife.”

Everyone was in a different part of the home, and as the parents scrambled to usher all four kids (Emily; Maddox, 4; Daniel, 2; and Marcella, 4 months) outside, they realized most of them had already been roused by Gracie’s barking.

Once everyone was out, Devin looked around — and couldn’t find Gracie. He ran back into the house, which was quickly going up in a blaze, and found her cowering under a bed, terrified. He later wrote that he experienced carbon monoxide poisoning after going back in for her, but he said it was worth it.

Once he’d escorted the dog outside, he plunged back into the burning mobile home to try to battle the flames with a fire extinguisher but quickly realized he was beaten.

The family lost most of their possessions but escaped with their lives, thanks to the 5-year-old, mixed-breed dog that alerted them all to the danger.

“At 5 o’clock, on the nose, is when my daughter says the dog woke her up,” Haegeman later recalled to the Enterprise. “I woke up. My clock said 5:01 a.m.

“The 911 call says 5:02 a.m. By 5:06 a.m., I had everyone out of the house, and at 5:08 a.m., as the fire department arrived, the wall that was in the laundry room fell off, and the fire flashed.”

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Nevis Fire and Rescue responded to the call, assisted by three  groups, according to the Enterprise, which reported that the Haegemans did not have renter’s insurance on their home.

Devin Haegeman shared his family’s story on his Facebook page and has been grateful for the help his family has received, including lodging. Friends even set up a GoFundMe that had raised over $24,000 as of Friday.

“Today has been one of the hardest days of our lives, it has also been one of the most inspiring,” he wrote on Dec. 22. “Dan and Stephanie Houchin entertained a steady flow of traffic this afternoon, we have warm beds to sleep in for the time being, and the kids are in their jammies tucked in with new blankets and new stuffed animals.

“Our loss is devastating, but the outpouring of love we have recieved over the last 17 hours is beyond what I ever expected.

“Less than 10 minutes after everyone got out, the laundry room was completely engulfed, flames shooting into the sky, and any chance of getting to the boys room was absolutely lost.

“So the dog we were supposed to foster and fell in love with became a member of our family. Shes gentle and kind and brilliant. And this morning, she woke Emily up, and literally saved our lives.”

Despite the destruction and loss, the family was committed to having a merry Christmas, and friends and family came in clutch to make sure that happened.

“We don’t have a house,” Haegeman wrote on Facebook  on Dec. 24. “We don’t have a kitchen to dance in. But we have a home.

“We lost a lot. I’ve never cried this much in my life. But our Christmas will be nothing short of Merry.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking