A Tornado Blew Away This Brave Dog, Then He Did The Most Unbelievable Thing
When the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado hit the state of Alabama in April 2011, countless families lost their homes as a result of the total destruction and devastation. While many people were left homeless, some victims were even killed or injured by the severe storm. However, it wasn’t only humans who had to weather the storm and make it out to the other side alive. This touching and heartfelt tale emerged out of the rubble and ruins of the tornado, attesting to the courage and resilience of the most vulnerable of beings. Read here to find out how one brave dog defied all odds and made the most miraculous comeback when all seemed hopeless.
1. The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham Tornado
The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado ravaged through Alabama on April 27, 2011, leaving lots of destruction and devastation in its wake across the cities of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. The smaller rural communities in between the cities were also severely damaged.
In fact, this tornado has been recorded as one of the costliest in the history of the United States. However, despite all the ruin and suffering caused by this EF4 tornado, heartfelt stories about courage and perseverance emerged from the rubble. However, there was one particular account of a helpless little dog that had everyone talking.
2. A Menacing Forecast
The Storm Prediction Center had already been monitoring a severe storm brewing on April 23, and few days before the tornado hit, the SPC issued a warning about widespread damaging winds and a possible tornado categorized at a level of least at EF2.
Some people took heed of the warning, but no one anticipated that the tornado would pick up such speed and intensity so rapidly. Unfortunately, many people were caught up in the path of danger, including this adorable pooch.
3. The Surge
When the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado whipped through Alabama, it grew to a mile and a half wide, destroying whole neighborhoods, ripping apart houses, and uprooting trees. Tragically, the tornado also killed 65 people and left another 1,500 injured.
This historically severe storm was part of a larger series of storms that spanned eight states over three days referred to by meteorologists as the “2011 Super Outbreak” ― the largest tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Luckily, mother nature can’t always break the human spirit, but what about that of a more vulnerable animal?
4. A Raging Storm
On April 27, 2011, the tornado tore through North Smithfield in Birmingham, Alabama. It struck many households causing grave damage for many families. One such family hid in the garage and huddled together with their dog Mason when the tornado hit the house.
When the storm intensified, the family had to dash back into the house to take cover. They had to think quickly but with all the commotion, they couldn’t check whether their two-year-old terrier mix had come inside the house with them or not.
5. The Calm after the Storm
When the storm subsided, the family ran back to the still slightly-intact garage to see if their precious pooch was hidden and cowering in the corner. When they didn’t find him in the house, they were sure he had to be in the garage where they last had last seen him.
With extremely heavy hearts, the family had to accept the fact that their beloved Mason was nowhere to be found. They didn’t want to leave their home without him, but they had to seek refuge somewhere else until the damage could be repaired. Little did they know where their precious pup had actually ended up.
6. No One Gets Left Behind
Mason’s owners feared the worst. They were terrified that he might have died in the storm, but something told them that he was out there somewhere. For several days, the family searched the area as best they could to rescue their beloved Mason.
After a few days of no luck, the family had given up hope and assumed that their four-legged friend hadn’t survived the ordeal. They spread the word about poor Mason but preferred to stay anonymous and to steer away from media interviews.
7. Rescue Efforts
Once the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado had passed, animal shelters and rescue groups decided to use all their resources to make a difference in the midst of all the aftermath. They went to extreme lengths to reunite stranded pets with their owners. At least 1,800 animals were displaced.
These organizations also had to put up displaced animals for adoption as some owners died from storm-related injuries, while others gave up their pets after finding the trauma of losing every possession too overwhelming. But where did Mason fit into all of this? Was he still out there somewhere?
8. The Painful Reality
Many pets had been whisked off by the storm too far from home, so their owners assumed they were gone forever. Mason’s family didn’t want to think of the worst, but they were running out of hope.
The animal rescue shelters managed to reunite around one-third of the animals with their families, but in other cases time had simply run out. If no one stepped forward after about 10 days, the rescue groups had to put the healthy animals up for adoption or transfer them to other rescue shelters. Mason’s family feared he might have been adopted by another family!
9. Incredible Efforts
The volunteers at the rescue groups and shelters understood that some pet owners might have been injured by the storm, so they extended the hold date so that they could ensure as many reunions as possible. In most cases, the fees to reclaim the pets were also waived.
In some cases, if the animal was extremely injured or in distress, the volunteers had to make tough decisions. “We found a lot of animals with broken feet and broken tails and we lost a few due to internal injuries,” Jennifer Bidwell of the temporary animal shelter in Walker County said. Several kittens and puppies were also injured and had to be hand fed because their mothers were tragically lost in the storm. But where was Mason?
10. The After Effects
After several weeks, many of the pets at the temporary shelter, as well as those from Tuscaloosa, were transferred to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. Candie Horsley, the manager at Cullman City Animal Shelter in Alabama said she received about 400 animals.
“We have 24 usable kennels in our shelter and 20 foster homes for 107 animals,” Horsley said. “We are packed.” Tuscaloosa’s Metro Animal Control also took in 770 animals that month, but still, Mason was nowhere to be seen.
11. Social Media Outreach
In the aftermath of the tornado, the humane societies and animal control groups took to Facebook with pages such as “Animals Lost & Found from the Tornadoes in Alabama on 4/27/11.” After all, the volunteers knew that the power of social media knows no bounds.
The social media effort also went beyond the borders of Alabama. Someone from Connecticut managed to reunite two dogs found in Homewood, Alabama with their owner, while another person from New Zealand even checked photos of lost dogs and matched them with images of found dogs to help with the reports on the Facebook page. In total, 100 animals were reunited with their owners through social media outreach. But Mason had other plans, and his family was definitely not prepared for it.
12. No Sign of Mason
Almost a month had passed since the tornado hit and Mason the terrier mix was still missing. His exasperated family was seriously considering giving up on continuing their searches. He wasn’t in any of the shelters, and there had been no sightings of him on the Facebook page.
While some people might have moved on with their lives, others consider their pets to be as special as any other family member. Luckily for Mason, his family didn’t give up, and everyone was in for one big surprise.
13. The Last Check
Three weeks after the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado wreaked havoc on North Smithfield in Birmingham, Mason’s family decided to return to check the rubble of their home one more time. Everyone had given up hope, but they wanted to sift through the debris once more.
When they came back to the damaged home, the dog’s family expected to just find rubble and pieces of their home scattered all around the place. For that reason, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they spotted something else on the porch.
14. The Biggest Surprise
When Mason’s family went back to the house one last time, they were totally gobsmacked when they found their beloved Mason sitting on the battered porch waiting for them! With his mouth agape and his little tail wagging like crazy, it was hard to believe Mason had been missing for so long.
Upon closer inspection, the pooch’s family noticed that their poor dog had been through a great ordeal over the last three weeks, which made the reunion even more emotional. When they looked closer at Mason, everything became clear.
15. An Emotional Reunion
As soon as Mason saw his family, he wagged his tail and wobbled towards them. His owners broke down in tears. They couldn’t believe that Mason had survived the storm all by himself, and that he had made his way home all alone.
What broke his owners’ hearts even more was the condition in which they found Mason. His legs were broken and he was extremely thin, but his spirit was still as jovial as ever. Only when they held Mason in their arms, did they realize how much Mason had been through.
16. Sucked In
It turned out that when the family had run back in their house to escape the twister, poor Mason was sucked out of the garage by the tornado and carried away by the strong winds. While most animals or even human beings wouldn’t have survived such force, Mason remained brave and resilient.
His two front legs were badly broken from the ordeal, but that didn’t stop Mason from crawling home through the tornado’s wreckage for 17 days until he made it home. He was half is normal weight at just 14 lbs (6.4 kg), severely dehydrated, and his fur was matted and dirty. The question was, would Mason’s resilient spirit get him through this?
17. No Time to Waste
Mason was finally reunited with his family, but he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. He hadn’t given up for one minute to make it back to his family, but that didn’t mean the poor dog didn’t need immediate medical attention.
The worst part was that the family was left homeless and without many resources to take care of their beloved Mason. They didn’t want to give him up, but they had to think of a solution, and fast!
18. The Last Resort
Still homeless and without a means of transportation, Mason’s family had no choice but to call the Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control Shelter. They didn’t want to separate from their precious dog again, but they knew it was for the best for the time being.
They had no money to pay for their dog’s extensive medical care and it was clear he was in distress. His legs were completely fractured with severe breaks in both his front paws. He literally had crawled home to get to his family, but that never crushed his spirits. Mason’s owners didn’t know it yet, but this would be the start of something beautiful for both Mason and themselves.
19. The Prognosis
When Mason arrived at the animal control shelter, everyone was totally in awe of Mason. “For an animal just to show up on someone’s porch after all this time was pretty remarkable, especially with the condition he’s in,” said Phil Doster, the coordinator of the animal shelter told MyFox Alabama. “It was just really sad, but really moving too, that this dog had made his way home on two broken legs.”
“He was emaciated and his two front legs were literally flopping below the elbows,” Doster added. “Mason literally had to crawl on his elbows to get back. The little guy had no indication of pain, remarkably. He was just happy to be home. [His family] did not want to surrender him, but they were doing what they thought was the best thing for Mason.” Fortunately for Mason and his family, Doster had an idea!
20. A Combined Effort
When Phil Doster examined Mason’s frail state, he decided to contact the nearby Vulcan Park Animal Care Clinic to check if there was a surgeon available to help save Mason’s life. Again, everyone was touched by Mason’s perseverance when they thought about how many miles the poor dog had to crawl with broken legs, even if it wasn’t such a long way.
As soon as the clinic heard about Mason’s ordeal and remarkable tale of survival, one of the directors offered to take X-rays of Mason immediately, but that wasn’t all. Mason’s tenacity would touch the heart of someone else.
21. A Miracle in the Making
When Dr. William D. Lamb, the owner and veterinarian at the Vulcan Park Animal Care facility in Birmingham witnessed Mason’s condition and heard the story, he decided to perform surgery on the dog free of charge.
“He was dehydrated, malnourished, about 50 percent of his normal body weight,” said Lamb. Once Dr. Lamb was able to stabilize Mason, he enlisted the help of two orthopedic surgeons to help fix Mason’s broken legs.
22. Invasive Surgery
Mason had to undergo an intense and invasive three-and-a-half-hour surgery to fix his legs. It involved placing two metal plates and 17 pins in his legs. This type of surgery and the medical bills for the recovery cost a fortune, but the clinic offered it all free of charge!
What’s more, Mason needed to stay at the clinic for feeding, medication and bandage changing to make a full recovery. The whole process would take five weeks, but incredibly, Dr. Lamb again offered the service without charging the family at all. The best part was that Mason was in such good hands and Mason’s story would soon touch the heart of someone else who could help.
23. An Unexpected Friendship
Soon after Mason had the surgery, he started eating and looked much healthier. “He looks so much better. If all goes well, and he heals normally, we all expect him to be at 100 percent in three or four months down the road, and no one will ever know the difference,” said Dr. Lamb, adding that Mason has gained some weight.
The surgery never broke Mason’s spirit and he remained happy and full of personality despite the trauma he had endured. Soon, Chuck Eagar, the manager and veterinarian technician of the clinic in charge of caring for the dog would form an incredibly special bond with Mason.
24. Family Visits
Mason the brave dog ended up spending four months at the clinic recovering from surgery until his family could find a new and permanent living situation. In that time, Chuck Eager fell in love with Mason. “I’ve seen dogs who have endured unbelievable hardships but I’ve never seen one who was that injured yet remained so happy and sweet,” he said.
He also sent Mason’s family weekly progress reports and encouraged them to visit whenever they could catch a ride to the clinic. “They have a little girl, and Mason is kind of her dog,” Eager told ABC News. “When they see each other, they both go crazy. His whole body wiggles when he sees her. She is so happy to see him, and so sad when they have to leave.”
25. On the Mend
With the love and attention Mason received from his family, Chuck Eager, and Dr. Lamb, Mason was making great progress in no time. Even Phil Doster from Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control shelter checked in on the brave dog.
“He’s doing better than expected. He’s doing great, we could not expect anything better,” Doster said. “The prognosis is that he’ll have no ill effects whatsoever from the breaks. He’s one of the most remarkable stories we’ve seen. For a dog to go through what he’s gone through and be so resilient and happy as he is, is pretty awesome,” he told the Today Show.
26. A Full Recovery
During his four months at the clinic, Mason gained 4 lbs (1.8 kg) very quickly and received a lot of physical therapy for his legs. Once his bandages and stitches were removed, the vets wrapped and secured his legs in adorable purple casts until it was time for him to go home.
Mason even started playing with the other dogs at the clinic and watched baseball games on the TV while sporting a new red cape. “I got it for him because he flew around in the tornado and came through it like Superdog,” declared Phil Doster. Mason would even earn a new title for his courage that would go viral.
27. The Will to Survive
Dr. Lamb was completely fascinated by Mason and his will to survive. “I’d have been curled up in the fetal position, licking my wounds, waiting to die,” he exclaimed on the Today Show. He went on to say that the whole experience was incredibly moving.
All the doctors and volunteers involved in the rescue agreed that the best part of this whole ordeal was to see Mason finally go home. “The real joy in all of this is that Mason is going to be able to return to his original family. It just makes your heart feel good,” Dr. Lamb said. “We’re really excited that the family are going to be able to take him back home,” he added.
28. Going Viral
Mason’s good spirits and incredible courage in the face of untold adversity earned him the memorable nickname “Mason the Brave Tornado Dog,” which was coined by Chuck Eager who created the Facebook page in Mason’s honor.
The remarkable tale garnered Mason over 7,000 followers and much attention in the media. Mason’s story featured on several national news segments and in People magazine for stories that covered pets displaced by the tornado.
29. Home Time
When Mason’s family was finally ready to take him back to Florida with them, his owners broke down in tears when Dr. Lamb gave them the thumbs up on his full recovery. Once the brave dog moved home, Eager would talk to the family often and was thrilled to hear that Mason was thriving in his new environment.
Mason was back to himself playing and acting like a puppy, but loud noises still scared him no matter how brave he had proved to be. “He does have a little issue with loud noises after being sucked out of a garage by something that sounds like a freight train,” Dr. Lamb said on the Today Show.
30. Mason the Tornado Dog
Mason’s tale is one of a dozen that touched the hearts of many people. His story was featured in a Time Inc. book called People: Amazing Pets!. The hard-cover magazine-style book was sold at many stores that sell People magazine as the editors of the magazine wrote the book.
His story was detailed under the headline “Tougher than a Tornado,” which included accounts from all the vets and volunteers, while Mason’s family wished to remain anonymous throughout his brush with fame. Phil Doster recalled how Mason’s injuries were the most severe for an animal who had survived so long on his own. Doster scanned the areas damaged by the tornadoes several times a week to find as many stranded animals as possible.
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