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Dog rescued from burning van

8:58 AM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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Beth Kelly pets her dog, Rufus, Wednesday. Rufus, a Labrador retriever/boxer mix, was riding on Gulliver's Doggie Daycare bus Tuesday when it burst into flames. (MADDIE MCGARVEY/BURLINGTON FREE PRESS)

Joel Banner Baird and Matt Sutkoski, Burlington Free Press

John Thamann, hailed as a hero for rescuing one dog from a fire aboard a Gulliver's Doggie Daycare bus he'd been driving Tuesday, is recovering well from the injuries he suffered while valiantly but unsuccessfully trying to pull another dog from the fast-moving flames.

The medical update came from Thamann's manager at Gulliver's, Amanda Poquette. Thamann relayed word he didn't want to be interviewed.

"He went for a walk this morning," Poquette said Wednesday afternoon. "I said, 'John, please rest.' He's just the sweetest man."

At the doggie day care Wednesday, workers were subdued and sad about the dog that died in the bus fire, Poquette said. But they were buoyed, she quickly added, by customers who wished them well.

"We've heard a lot of words of support," Poquette said.

Gulliver's Wednesday clientele of a few dozen dogs did their part, all friendly and happy and trying hard to spread good cheer.

"A doggie day care is upbeat and fun place to work. To have had something awful happen, it's hard," Poquette said. As she talked, several dogs gently bumped up against her and some of her coworkers and a pair of visitors to say hello, and maybe receive a quick neck scratch for their efforts.

The fire
New Year's Day was a slow holiday afternoon at Gulliver's. On a normal weekday, Thamann would have been taking at least 10 dogs home in the bus.

Instead, just two canine passengers were in the bus when Thamann smelled smoke and pulled over in a parking lot near the intersection of Hinesburg and Williston roads.

Things escalated quickly as flames erupted and began racing through the bus. Thamann was able to grab Rufus, a 3-year old Labrador retriever/boxer mix. Freed from the fire but terrified, Rufus ran into traffic. A passerby grabbed Rufus before he could be hit by a car. The person kept him safe in his vehicle during the crisis, Poquette said.

Meanwhile, Thamann kept at it, trying to get the other dog, a terrier mix, out of the flames and dense smoke. South Burlington police said the dog was panicked and resisted rescue efforts. Witnesses tried to help, as did a police officer. It was hopeless.

Thamann's hands were burning. He was inhaling too much smoke. Flames started to scorch his head. Finally, a bystander grabbed Thamann's jacket collar and dragged him away from the burning bus, Poquette said. She's heard from witnesses that the man who pulled Thamann away from the fire was convinced he otherwise would have died trying to save the dog.

Rufus' owner, Beth Kelly of South Burlington, said her pet was released from a veterinarian's care at about noon Wednesday and is doing "very, very well."

Kelly said her concerns over Rufus subsided only at noon, when he emerged from an extended stay with a veterinarian.

Remarkably, she said, Rufus sustained no burns and showed no signs of smoke-related respiratory distress - testaments to Thamann's quick response to the fire.

The next step in this near-miss, she said, is to find a suitable way to thank Rufus' savior, and to find words that might console the owner of the dog that died in the flames.

Poquette declined to identify the owners of the dog who died. Poquette said she planned to check in with the dog owners, whose initial reaction she described as shock, later Wednesday to see how they were doing.

The bus and the driver
Thamann had driven the iconic purple bus for three years.

In a 2010 interview with the Burlington Free Press, Thamann said he became a confirmed dog enthusiast only after taking the job.

"To me, there's something more rewarding about having a dog that didn't welcome you turn into one that listens to you," he said at the time. "Most of the dogs here like me, and most of the dogs that don't like me generally come around."

Gulliver's Doggie Daycare houses about a 100 dogs a day, and roughly 10 percent of them were transported to and from the day care via the bus, Poquette said. That's not going to happen anytime soon. There's another vehicle the day care can use, but it first needs retrofitting so it can safely transport dogs. There's insurance to work out, and other details.

Poquette said it'll be a few weeks before Thamann is back on the job, something he told Poquette he wants to keep doing.

Burlington Free Press

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