The Grahamstown SPCA is bursting with pride at rescue dog Rocket, who saved the lives of at least five people and two homes when a fire started in the city centre last weekend. The five-month-old border collie cross was adopted around a month ago and is the first in what her new family consider to be a series of small miracles.
Claire Nye Hunter is the Senior Assistant Priest in the parish of the Cathedral of St Michael and St George and lives with her husband Andrew and their two daughters in The Deanery, behind St George’s Hall in High Street. Andrew Hunter is the Dean of Grahamstown. With Andrew out of town on Church business and daughters Rachel and Nicola away at University, Claire had only Rocket for company last Friday night.
It was some time after two in the morning when Rocket started barking and woke Claire.
“I’m a heavy sleeper and it takes a lot to wake me up,” said Claire. “Rocket must have been barking for quite a long time.”
She was puzzled though. “It wasn’t the kind of barking she does when she sees a person. It was more like short, anxious barks.”
Claire listened for a bit, heard nothing and dozed off.
“Rocket woke me up again and this time she was even more agitated,” Claire said. This time she got up and listened. “I couldn’t hear anything except a sort of crackling, popping noise,” she said.
She looked out of the window and thought she could see small flames coming from the building next door, the Provincial Traffic Department’s offices.
“I called the Fire Department – luckily I had the number on hand, thanks to Grocott’s*. I said I wasn’t a hundred percent sure but I thought there might be a fire starting next door.”
That was at 2.15am on Saturday morning. Less than two minutes later, the building exploded – “it was like a fireworks display” – and then it was a roaring furnace.
When Claire called again to say the fire was serious, the control room operator assured her the team was already there.
The second miracle was that the Cathedral’s Subdean Mzinzisi Dyantyi, who lives on the adjoining Subdeanery property with his wife Lilitha and their two young children, had forgotten to put his cellphone on silent, as they both usually do.
Claire alerted him and the family quickly moved into action, preparing to evacuate if they needed to, as did Claire.
Flames from the burning building were less than a metre from the tinder-dry branches of the trees generously surrounding the property, Claire said. “If Rocket hadn’t woken me up, we could have woken up instead with the entire property encircled in flames.”
From there, it wouldn’t have taken much for the old buildings to catch fire and spread to others in the densely built CBD.
“The other miracle was that after a day of hectic winds, the air was perfectly still. The flames went straight up and the sparks dropped straight down,” Claire said.
They watched, praying, for the hour and a quarter it took the fire fighters to quell the blaze. It was only the next morning, when the police arrived to question Claire, that she heard the fire could have been deliberate.
“I didn’t hear or see anyone,” Claire said. “And from the explosion, I’d assumed it must be an electrical fault.”
The miracle about Rocket was that she shouldn’t really have been there. “We’d agreed as a family that we’d wait until December, when the girls would be home, to choose a dog together,” Claire said.
But when they visited the SPCA a month ago to sign consent for an inspection of their property (a condition of adoption), they saw Rocket.
“She came up to us and we melted.” Rocket went home with them.
“You may question my theology, but the good Lord gave us Rocket earlier than planned, for sure,” Claire said with a wry smile. “If God has guardian angels, I now believe they also come in the form of five-month-old puppies!”
SPCA Centre Manager Mark Thomas said staff were thrilled to hear about Rocket.
“We are so proud of Rocket,” Thomas said of the puppy found curled up and abandoned in a gutter and brought into the care of the SPCA.
“During her short time with us, she responded well to the love and care of the dedicated staff and volunteers who spent time with her on her road to adoption and it was lovely to be able to send her to such a loving home.
“Dogs are true and loyal companions for life and when they feel loved and cared for, they will show it. This is one of the many examples of such behaviour.
“Stories such as this make the challenges we face every day and the work we do worthwhile and it is great to have such a positive happy ever after. Well done, Rocket, we are so very proud of you!”
Read the report on the fire on Page 2.
* Grocott’s Mail publishes a list of emergency contacts for Grahamstown on Page 2 of every edition.