By Liana Jacob

THIS DOG saved his owner by barking before his house burst into flames that tragically claimed the life of his heroic hound.

In December 2019, photographer, Cole Finney (27) from Los Angeles, California, USA, was sleeping when he heard his pet dog, Bowie, bark loudly.

Cole opened his eyes and noticed that his room was hazy; there was a thin layer of smoke in the air. He was alone in his rented shared house that he had moved into less than a week before.

Part of Cole’s house after the fire. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

No smoke alarms had gone off; the only alarm that went off was the sound of his wheaten terrier dog barking. So, he got up and put his hand on the door, which wasn’t hot. But when he opened it; a thick cloud of black smoke immediately hit him in the face, which filled his room quickly.

Despite struggling to see and breathe due to the smoke filling his lungs, he knew he had to find a way out of the house. However, when he went to the window and ripped open the curtains, he noticed the window was blocked by thick metal bars that were fastened by large screws. He was trapped.

Whilst the smoke was so thick that he couldn’t see anything, including his own hands, he cautiously made his way through the house to the front door, but as soon as he made contact with the handle of the door, a huge inferno erupted from the floor and engulfed the door, with flames surrounding him instantly.

Bowie, the dog who saved Cole’s life after barking and alerting him to the smoke before it went up in flames. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

His hands, arms, legs and chest melted from the heat of the blaze which originated from a furnace that was installed from before he moved in which caught fire. As he looked on in horror whilst the fire engulfed his body, it was in that moment he thought he was going to die.

As he panickily tried to escape, he felt something that shattered as he pushed through it; it was a glass window. The smoke escaped through the cracked hole in the window and Cole bravely broke the rest of the window as he climbed out and jumped 10 feet to the ground, miraculously landing on his feet.

He swung open the back door and screamed out Bowie’s name over and over again, but he heard nothing and saw no movement. He ran out in the street as the fire trucks drove in and watched as his house exploded into flames again.

Cole pictured during his surgery after the fire. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

He was rushed into hospital, where he was immediately sedated and intubated. As he had inhaled a large amount of smoke and was struggling to breathe on his own, a tube was placed down his lungs to help him breathe. He was then told by doctors that Bowie had passed away in the fire and this news had left him inconsolable for days.

“I moved into a new home for rent in December of 2019. Less than a week later, the old furnace of the building caught fire while I was sleeping,” Cole said.

“My dog, Bowie, barked. Not his usual soft bark to let me know the mail was here or a roommate was cooking breakfast. This bark was loud.

Cole’s house completely burned down. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“I opened my eyes to see my room was hazy; a very thin layer of smoke hung in the air, small enough to be from burnt popcorn or a smouldering fire in a fireplace.

“No one was yelling. No alarms were sounding. And therefore, I was not alarmed either. I should have been.

“Bowie continued to bark. I got up and put my hand on the door. It wasn’t hot. I turned the handle and opened the door. Immediately a huge torrential plume of smoke hit me right in the face.

Cole pictured in hospital soon after the accident. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“The blackest, foulest smoke filled my room instantly. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely see. I knew right then that if I didn’t leave within minutes or even seconds, I would pass out from smoke inhalation and die right there in that house.

“I flailed with the urgency of a dying animal and connected with something I couldn’t see. It shattered. Glass. A window.

“In order to escape, I jumped out a second storey window and waited nearly ten minutes for paramedics to arrive, since the fire department was clogging up the small street I lived on.

Cole’s hand was completely burnt due to the fire and it caused him to lose his job. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“I swung open the back door, my hand searing with pain and screamed out my dog’s name over and over. I could not see through the smoke.

“I couldn’t make out even the faintest outline of walls or furniture through the back door. No reply. No bark. No movement.

“Ten minutes becomes an eternity when you are in that much pain. I was rushed to the hospital and immediately sedated so that they could intubate me.

Cole’s burnt legs. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“Coping was very tough. Being in the hospital for over two weeks was hard. The pain was incredibly severe. When I learned my dog died in the fire I was inconsolable for days.”

Cole admits that if it wasn’t for hearing Bowie barking, he would never have known his house was on fire and credits his loyal best friend for saving his life.

He says that Bowie had always been well-trained, and he would even take him on walks without his leash.

The remnants of Cole’s house after the fire. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

With the help of his parents, he got the help he needed to recover, but he has had to leave his job due to his severely burned hands. After everything he went through with his ordeal, the most painful part was losing his dog and best friend, Bowie, who he says saved his life.

“I raised him from birth; he and I were as close as a dog and a human could get. He slept in my bed every night, he was always following me, always near me, always wanting to play,” he said.

“He was an extremely smart dog and would listen to whatever I said, I could even walk him off-leash because he was so well trained.

Cole showing his burn scars on his leg. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“He was there for me when I felt most alone, a constant companion who loved me more unconditionally than any human has.

“Although he passed away, his final act was saving my life and that has been something that has helped me stay positive and grateful during this difficult experience.

“Now, all of my wounds are finally closed up and red scars remain of what were once deep open wounds. The pain has subsided, and I am finally able to resume ‘normal’ life for the most part.

“Although I have healed physically, mentally I still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) episodes.

Part of Cole’s house after the fire. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“I will occasionally relive the experience in my dreams, and when I awake my body will go into ‘fight or flight mode’ as if I am in the fire and my adrenaline will spike. If I smell smoke that reminds me of the fire, I will have a panic attack.

“My parents have always been my rock of love and support throughout my life and have been here for me after the incident. I have stayed with them as I healed, and as I continue to get my life back on track.

“I lost all of my possessions in the fire. Because I had just moved in, I didn’t have time to get renter’s insurance before this occurred. If I had to estimate, I lost at least £19,844 ($25,000) worth of belongings that I had just moved in days prior.

“I also haven’t been able to work for the last three months as my hands have still needed time to heal. Hopefully I can get back to work soon.

Cole pictured during his recovery period showing his burned hand, arm and chest. MDWfeatures / Cole Finney

“But other than financially, this incident has actually changed my mindset quite considerably. As we go through life and manage our day to day activities and tasks, we take many things for granted.

“We are so bogged down with daily stresses that sometimes we forget to just appreciate what it means to be alive.

“When I saw the sunset after I got out of the hospital, I wept at how beautiful it was. It’s ironic that in tragedy we see the beauty of the world more clearly.

“The pain has been immense, and the financial hardship has been difficult, but the hardest part will forever be losing my dog.

“Pain subsides, scars heal, new jobs can be found, things can be replaced. He will never be replaced and that has been the most difficult thing to accept.

“Be grateful you are still alive. It was hard at first; feeling like my life is forever altered by scars or immobility or pain and will never be the same.

“But I realised that despite the tragic nature of this incident, despite the pain I endured and the hardships I have incurred, I survived when I absolutely shouldn’t have. I am so lucky to still be here, to still be able to experience what life has to offer.”