Ellie, a 5-year-old donkey believed to have saved three draft horses and another donkey from perishing in the High Park fire in June, received a medal from PetAid Colorado Thursday night.
The companion animal of Greg and Michele Van Hare of Loveland was named an animal hero in an annual recognition program put on by the nonprofit animal welfare organization.
After the ceremony, the Van Hares told the remarkable story of animal heroism during the Larimer County wildfire that burned more than 87,250 acres and destroyed moe than 259 homes.
Ellie and the four other animals were pasturing on a friend’s property near Masonville, northeast of Denver, when the fire broke out, Greg Van Hare said.
The Van Hares have a number on animals on their 3-1/2 acre property outside Loveland. Michele was away working at a summer camp and pasturing some of them “made it easier on me,” he said.
Then came a fateful lightning strike and the area near Masonville erupted in what became one of Colorado’s largest and most destructive wildfires.
The fate of Ellie and her companions was not known for days.
“I had been telling people I had given up,” Michele said.
Three days after the animals had last been seen, rescuers moving through the devastated landscape found them in a lush, green meadow, singed but alive. The meadow was encircled by blackened earth.
The rescuers surmised that Ellie had kept the group together and saved them all. The Van Hares believe it.
“She’s very intelligent,” said Greg.”She’s an amazing animal.”
Ellie has been known to send large elk packing, he said. She just lowers her ears and slowly advances toward intruders and they flee.
Protection is Ellie’s job, Michele said. And now she has a medal to show for it.
Thursay’s program, titled “Colorado’s Animal Heroes,” is designed to celebrate the human/animal bond, according to Ralph Johnson, executive director of PetAid Colorado.
Other award winners were:
Human-animal bond – Fox, a dog who stayed by his cancer-stricken owner’s side during the owner’s health ordeal.
Service – Simon, a 10-year-old cat born with a spinal deformity, but who has been a registered therapy animal since 2009.
Human hero – Dr. Jessica Rychel, for her devotion and commitment to a paralyzed St. Bernard, Bruno, who now walks and has been adpted by Rychel.
Animal welfare volunteer – Jayme Nielson, who has worked on behalf of animals in the Denver area for the past 20 years.
Youth animal advocate – Elizabeth Hauser, who is producer of a video titled, A Hole in my Heart: A Childs Guide to Pet Loss. Jim Crafts Volunteer of the Year – Dr. Stacey McVicker, who has contributed many hours to ensure that pets whose owners cannot access veterinary services in PetAid’s animal hospital receive the care they need.