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In a Pinch, Guide Dog Is Woman’s Best Friend : Rescue: The Labrador retriever nudges his partially blind owner awake to alert her to apartment fire. It saved her life, says a fire investigator.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pamela Reeds awoke Tuesday to the frantic nudging of her 2-year-old Labrador retriever. On the other side of her bedroom door, the apartment was in flames.

Reeds, 43, who is partially blind, pushed out a bedroom screen and escaped unharmed, along with her guide dog, Mercury. Neighbors who had heard Mercury’s barks also awoke to discover the fire and escaped.

“If it wasn’t for that dog, (Reeds) would be dead today,” said Garden Grove Fire Department investigator Bill Dumas. “These dogs are trained to be alert for unusual circumstances. They are the eyes and ears of their owners.”

In a hotel room later Tuesday, Reeds said Mercury “deserves a medal.”

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The fire broke out about 12:25 a.m. in the living room of her ground-level apartment in the 12000 block of Chapman Avenue after she accidentally knocked a lamp onto a pile of clothes, Dumas said.

“She wasn’t sure if it was on or not. She went and took a shower, she came back, and forgot to pick it up,” Dumas said. “Approximately two hours later, the apartment erupted into flames.”

Reeds, asleep in her bed, awoke to her dog’s urgent signals.

“Mercury got on the bed and started nudging me. I knew something was wrong. I got up and opened the bedroom door and the smoke just blew me back in,” she said. “I shut the door and pushed a screen out of the window. Mercury didn’t want to jump, so I had to coax him out of the window.”

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This is the third apartment fire Reeds has experienced in the last two years, said Dumas. Ironically, the last one also started when a roommate knocked a lamp onto some clothing, he said.

Last year, in a different apartment in same complex, Reeds and her 6-year-old daughter, Angela, were rescued by a neighbor when their apartment caught fire. They were not injured, but the roommate, Angie Gardner, 32, died in her bedroom.

In 1991, Dumas said, Reeds’ daughter was playing with a lighter in an apartment they rented in Anaheim and started a fire.

Dumas said the fires are “absolutely unrelated. Some people just seem to have black clouds hanging over them, and that seems to be the case here.”

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This time, it took 26 firefighters about 15 minutes to control the fire. But Reeds’ apartment and all of its contents were destroyed.

Upstairs neighbor Esperanza Villegas, whose apartment was slightly damaged, said she was awakened by the dog’s barking and Reeds’ screams. She fled unharmed with her three children.

“It was scary. My God, it was so scary,” Villegas said. For Reeds, the fire was particularly devastating because she fears that the loss of her home will prevent her from ever regaining custody of Angela, who was placed in a foster home after last year’s fire. Reeds declined to talk about why her daughter was taken from her, and court records on the matter have been sealed.

“I’m very depressed,” Reeds said as she wiped away tears. “I lost everything I owned. My daughter’s baby pictures that can never be replaced, her toys. Everything I ever owned is gone.”

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Her lost possessions include a Braille typewriter, her furniture and clothing, and medication for high-blood pressure and a heart condition.

The Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross placed Reeds in an Anaheim hotel, replaced her heart medication and bought some food and clothing for her. And Anaheim veterinarian Winston Vickers treated Mercury’s paw, injured when the dog jumped out the window, without charge.


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