Hero dog saves owners, home from backyard fire

Don and Jean Houts with Osa, their heroic dog.
(Karen Billing)

When a fire broke out in their backyard in the middle of the night, Encinitas residents Don and Jean Houts’ dog Osa sprang into action and alerted them of the threat to their lives and to their home of over 40 years. Osa’s heroics in the April 18 fire that started on an outdoor grill brings new meaning to the term “rescue dog.”

Osa (who also answers to Osita, which means “little girl bear” in Spanish) is a playful seven-and a half-year-old mix, part border collie and part Australian shepherd with fuzzy black hair and white spotted legs. A rescue pup, Osa was adopted by the Houts when she was just eight weeks old from the Helen Woodward Animal Center and she has been a treasured part of the family ever since.

“She’s a very bright, very active dog,” Don said. “She’s a good frisbee dog.”

“She’s a great companion, very lovable and a hero,” Jean said.

That Sunday, April 18 night, the Houts had barbecued for dinner. Don recalls going out twice to check that the gas grill was turned off and Jean also went out to check once.

Osa doesn’t sleep in the bedroom and she must have seen the fire out of the window because she came running into the bedroom barking around 3:30 a.m.

“She was barking like crazy,” Don said. Due to the urgent and unfamiliar way she was barking, he knew something was wrong: “You get to learn your dog’s bark.”

Osa’s barks rousted the Houts from bed and through the bedroom door that opens onto the back patio, Don could see the terrifying sight of the entire grill on fire. He called 911 and grabbed a fire extinguisher which only sprayed for a few seconds. As the flames licked to the top of the eaves of his home, he next got his garden hose.

“I was able to completely knock the flames down,” he said.

The Encinitas Fire Department arrived within five minutes and worked to ensure there were no remaining hot spots. The stucco exterior of the home where the grill had been was left charred and the smoke damage reached up into the attic— restoration work has begun to replace all of the insulation up there. They will also need to repaint most of the rooms directly adjacent to the fire.

The turf in the backyard is singed in spots and the smell of smoke still lingers inside the home but Don knows it could have been much worse. As the fire had nearly reached the rafters of the home, the fire captain said they were minutes away from losing their home. It’s scary for them to think what might have happened had Osa not alerted them to the threat just steps away from where they were sleeping.

The Houts have lived in their Encinitas home since 1979—the original owners of the house, they raised their children there and it is full of priceless and irreplaceable memories. Inside the home, on the other side of the wall from the grill, a cabinet filled with photo albums was just barely spared.

“It’s amazing she knew exactly what to do, to come in and let us know,” Don said of Osa’s heroics.

“We feel very fortunate and very lucky,” Jean said.