RAVENA, NY—Authorities confirmed a four-alarm blaze tore through the countryside Sunday, burning down a picturesque farm where thousands of sick and elderly dogs had been sent by parents who wanted their children's beloved pets to have lots of room to run around and play.
The farm, which for decades had provided a home to infirm canines and allowed them to live out their days romping happily in the fresh air, was decimated by the flames, and officials confirmed 3,000 animals either choked to death on the thick, acrid smoke or were burned alive.
"There were no survivors—none," said county sheriff Patrick Calnan, who struggled to keep his emotions in check as he pointed to acres of melted squeak toys and pile after pile of charred golden retrievers and tiny Pomeranian corpses. "The saddest part is that all of these dogs, because they had been having so much fun outdoors in the bright sunshine with their doggy friends, had been getting healthier and healthier before the fire hit."
"They had so many happy years up at the farm, but it certainly wasn't worth the excruciating deaths they endured," continued Calnan, holding a scorched collar that read "Buster." "You can see by the tags here that this dog used to belong to someone named Cody Harrington of Brockton, MA. If only Cody hadn't been so allergic to ol' Buster, his faithful pup would still be alive today."
The sheriff also said he was awaiting forensic results on two sets of severely blackened remains found inside the gutted farmhouse and believed to be those of the old farmer and his wife, both of whom reportedly loved all the dogs very much and fed them whatever they wanted and gave every single one of them belly scratches each night.
According to neighbors, in the moments before the fire struck, all of the dogs were wagging their tails in delight and playfully chasing one another around the barn.
"I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of terrified howling," said Greta Landry, 79, who lives down the road from the farm. "Those poor, trapped dogs were barking so desperately, almost as if they were calling out for the little boys and girls who used to care for them when they were younger, but no one ever came."
While the cause of the fire remains unknown, investigators said the dogs' favorite fetching sticks served as kindling for the initial flames, causing the blaze to spread rapidly, with no dog able to scamper away from the raging inferno in time.
Authorities noted that scores of formerly beloved parakeets, goldfish, and adorable floppy-eared bunnies also burned to death.
At press time, officials at nearby Memorial Hospital confirmed that, in addition, a dozen adult males died in the fire, all of them loving fathers who had gone out to the store several years earlier and were just on their way back home with big presents for their children when they saw the fire and tried to save the trapped dogs.
"By the time we got there, the property was engulfed in towering 90-foot flames, but you could still hear the dogs whimpering and pawing futilely at the barn door," Ravena fire chief Adam Lesser said. "It's going to be tough calling all the previous owners and telling them how their old pets died."
Added Lesser, "To be honest, we'll probably spare everyone the grisly details and just say we were forced to euthanize them."