When the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado swept through Alabama in April 2011, countless families lost their homes in the devastating natural disaster. But not only humans were affected by the tragedy. This is the incredible story behind one brave dog’s triumph over the odds.
The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado caused unrivalled destruction as it ravaged the local community. Homes were destroyed and lives were lost.
A Menacing Force
The Storm Prediction Center had been monitoring the brewing storm. Days before the tornado would hit, the SPC issued a warning about the severe winds, categorized at a level of least at EF2. Many people heeded the warning, but few would truly anticipate the danger and devastation that was soon to come.
The Fateful Day
The tornado tore through the towns, destroying everything in it’s wake. Tragically, the natural disaster would result in the death of 65 people, also leaving over 1500 gravely injured. This enormous and severe storm was part of a larger series of storms that ravaged eight states over three days.
A Raging Storm
On April 27, 2011, the tornado devastated North Smithfield in Birmingham, Alabama. It struck hundreds of homes causing life-changing damage for many of the local families. One such family hid in their home’s garage, huddled together with their dog, Mason. When the storm intensified, rushed back to the house to take cover. In the commotion, they didn’t take notice of whether their two-year-old terrier mix had made it inside the house with them.
The Calm that Followed
When the storm eventually subsided, the family searched the garage for their beloved pooch. To their great sadness, their dog was nowhere to be found. They had to leave the house while extensive repairs could be done. They had little idea of where Mason had ultimately ended up.
No One Left Behind
Mason’s devastated owners began to fear the worst. They feared that Mason had died in the storm but their intuition told them otherwise. For several days following the storm, the family searched the surrounding area for their beloved Mason. After days of no sighting of their four-legged friend, they lost all hope, coming to terms with the loss of their family pet.
Once the tornado had passed, animal shelters and rescue groups took to the streets to search for missing local animals. They were determined to reunite pets with their owners. At least 1,800 animals were displaced and separated from their loving families. A lingering question remained: Was Mason still out there somewhere?
The Painful Reality
Many owners assumed their displaced pets were gone forever. Mason’s family had lost all hope that Mason would be found. If he had survived the terrifying ordeal, the family feared that he had been adopted by another family. The animal rescue shelters managed to reunite around one-third of the animals with their families, but if no one came forward to claim the animal after about 10 days, the rescue groups had to put the surviving animals up for adoption.
The many volunteers at the rescue shelters knew that some pet owners had been injured by the storm, they extended the hold date of the animals for as long as possible. In many cases, the fees to reclaim the pets were also compassionately waived. “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 Walker County animal shelter said. But where was Mason?
After several weeks, many of the pets were transferred to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. Candie Horsley, the manager at Cullman City Animal Shelter said she received an estimated 400 animals. “We have 24 usable kennels in our shelter and 20 foster homes for 107 animals,” Horsley said. “We are packed.” Local Metro Animal Control also found 770, but still, little Mason remained missing.
Social Media Outreach
In the devastating aftermath of the historic storm, many animal control groups took to Facebook in an attempt to reunite pets with the owners, the “Animals Lost & Found from the Tornadoes in Alabama on 4/27/11” was launched.
Volunteers knew that the power of social media could greatly aid their heroic efforts. In total, 100 animals were reunited with their owners through the Facebook page. But courageous Mason had other plans, his family were not prepared for what would soon be uncovered…
No Sign of Mason
Almost a month after the tornado, Mason was still missing. His exasperated family was considering giving up their determined search for their pet. While many would have eventually given up, little Mason was considered a family member. The search continued and Mason’s family was soon in for a big surprise.
The Final Check
Three weeks after the tornado, Mason’s family decided to the wreckage of their home one more time. They wanted to sift through the rubble and debris just one last time. Amidst the bricks and scraps, they spotted an unbelievable sight on their porch.
The Big Surprise
Mason’s family were totally gobsmacked when they found their precious pooch sitting amidst the rubble of the porch waiting for them to rescue him! With his little tail wagging like crazy with happiness and relief, the family and their dog were finally reunited. They could hardly imagine what the desperate animal had suffered through over their time apart. When they took a closer look at Mason, everything soon became clear.
An Emotional Reunion
As soon as Mason spotted his family, he hobbled towards them. His owners broke down in floods of tears of relief and joy. But when they saw him it also broke their hearts.
Signs Of Suffering
They couldn’t believe that their dog had survived and managed to make his way home. Upon closer inspection, Mason had suffered over the last month. His legs were broken and he was extremely thin, but his spirit remained. The family were in awe that he had somehow survived.
It turned out, as the family made their way back into their house to escape the tornado poor Mason was sucked in by the twister and carried away by the strong winds. While many people and animals would not have survived such a violent force, Mason remained resilient.
In A Bad Way
His front legs were badly broken, but that didn’t stop Mason from crawling through the wreckage until he made it to his family’s home. The dog was severely dehydrated, and his fur was matted and filthy. How had Mason’s courageous spirit got him through the ordeal?
No Time to Waste
Mason wasn’t out of danger just yet. The beloved pet required immediate medical attention. The very worst part was that the family was still homeless and without the resources they needed to care for the injured animal. The family had to think of a solution to their predicament fast!
In their dire circumstances, the family made a difficult decision. They made a call to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control Shelter. They didn’t want to be separated from Mason, but they it was the best decision for the wellbeing of their pet. They had no money to pay for the medical care that Mason needed. Mason’s owners didn’t know it yet, but this would be the beginning of a life-altering journey for Mason and themselves.
The volunteers at the animal control shelter were completely in awe of Mason’s story of survival. “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 shelter. “It was just really sad, but really moving too, that this dog had made his way home on two broken legs.”
A True Miracle
“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.” Doster soon had an idea!
A Combined Effort
When Phil Doster saw the extent of Mason’s frail state, he contacted the nearby Vulcan Park Animal Care Clinic to see if there was a surgeon on hand to help save Mason’s life. Again, people were in awe of Mason’s perseverance. As soon as the clinic heard of the dog’s remarkable survival story, they offered to take X-rays of Mason immediately. But the brave dog’s tenacity would touch the heart of someone else…
A Miracle in the Making
When Dr. William D. Lamb, the owner and head veterinarian at the Vulcan Park Animal Care facility in Birmingham heard Mason’s touching story, he offered to perform surgery on the the injured dog free of charge. “He was dehydrated, malnourished, about 50 percent of his normal body weight,” said Lamb. Once Dr. Lamb soon enlisted the help of two orthopedic surgeons to operate on Mason’s broken legs.
Mason had to undergo an invasive three-and-a-half-hours on the operating table in order to fix his multiple broken bones. The dedicated doctors placed two metal plates and 17 pins in his fractured legs. This extensive and intense surgery would have usually cost a small fortune, but the clinic operated on the brave pooch for absolutely nothing.
Free Of Charge
Mason needed to remain at the clinic to ensure he made a full recovery. The whole process would take five weeks, but unbelievably, Dr. Lamb again offered all his clinic’s services completely free of charge. Yet again, Mason’s incredible story would soon touch the heart of someone else who was hoping to help.
An Unexpected Friendship
Soon after the dog’s surgery was completed, he began eating and seemed to be 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. Chuck Eagar, the manager and technician of the clinic who cared for Mason while the dog was in recovery, formed an incredibly special bond with the pup.
Mason spent four months in recovery before the clinic could find a new and permanent living situation for the little guy. In his time in the clinic, 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. Mason’s family also made frequent visits 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.”
Mason’s incredible spirit and story of triumph over the odds earned him the memorable nickname “Mason the Brave Tornado Dog,” given to him by Chuck Eager who soon created the Facebook page dedicated to the dog. Mason has gained over 7,000 followers and lots of media attention. Mason’s survival tale was featured on several national news segments and in People magazine.
Mason had amazingly made a full recovery, returning his happy and healthy self. But trauma of the tornado would still often haunt the little pup. “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.
Mason the Tornado Dog
Mason’s tale is one that has touched the hearts of so many people around the world. His story was soon featured in a Time Inc. book called People: Amazing Pets!. The hard-cover book was sold at a host of stores to rave reviews by many dog lovers.
The Little Brave Heart
Mason’s story was detailed under the headline “Tougher than a Tornado.” Phil Doster recalled how Mason’s injuries were severe, the dog was speculated to have dragged himself back to his family’s home for 17 long and harrowing days. Mason is a true testament to the courage and will power of a dog’s spirit. He is definitely worthy of the title of man’s greatest companion!