"My dog saved me from a house fire!"


26 March 2020
Without Cocker Spaniel Buddy’s persistence, Martin Soorjoo and his wife, Margo, would have perished in the fire that destroyed their London home. Joanne Bednall reports.

Despite once reducing a dog trainer to tears, Cocker Spaniel Buddy finally proved his worth one hot summer’s night seven months ago.

In fact, owner Martin Soorjoo is convinced his three-and-a-half-year-old dog’s stubborn streak saved his life and that of his wife, Margo.

Not a bad achievement for an ‘unplanned’ dog who Martin took on after his 75-year-old mother struggled to cope with her puppy’s boisterous, headstrong behaviour.

“We looked after Buddy for short spells, but had him on a permanent basis when he was about a year old,” explained barrister-turned-highperformance coach Martin, 52.

“He is very friendly, loving, playful, and protective, but can also be stubborn and mischievous.

“In the early days, Buddy had Martin is full of praise for his brave dog. a tendency not to listen or come back and we went through three dog trainers — the last one burst into tears.

“But following a chance encounter with dog trainer William Dwen, Buddy’s behaviour has been completely transformed, and he no longer pulls on his lead or has problems with recall. He’s calmer, less excitable, and more centred and grown up. William’s methods are simple, clear, and eff ective — he’s a magician!”

Buddy’s early misdemeanours, however, have long since been forgotten after he demonstrated an act of amazing heroism and devotion late last June.

It had been a sweltering weekend, so before retiring at around midnight, Martin switched on a portable air-conditioning unit in the master bedroom of his Clapham home. As usual, Buddy was curled up in his own bed, on the floor next to the couple.

Just hours later, though, the air-con unit started to malfunction, and soon, smoke was silently filling the room.

Sensing all was not well, Buddy refused to leave his sleeping owners and began barking in an eff ort to raise the alarm. But, already overcome by smoke because he was the closest to the unit, Martin didn’t stir. An increasingly agitated Buddy ran around to the other side of the bed and tried to wake Margo by barking more urgently and pounding his paws on the bed. Finally, Margo, now also drowsy from the fumes, awoke, and struggling to breathe in the smoke, desperately tried to rouse Martin.

“I remember seeing an orange glow and trying to make sense of it,” recalled Martin, whose neighbours had already spotted smoke billowing out of the air vent and called 999.

“Gradually, I realised there was smoke and flames in the bedroom and knew we had to get out.”

Grabbing Buddy, the couple stumbled downstairs, where Margo punched a code into the ADT alarm pad, which alerted the emergency services. Meanwhile, Martin quickly reassessed the situation and felt sure he could tackle a small electrical fi re by himself, so headed back upstairs and gingerly re-opened the bedroom door. Within seconds, he was met by a wall of flames — the whole room was alight.

Trying to quell the rising tide of panic, Martin fled downstairs but in all the chaos, Buddy had disappeared.

“I searched frantically for him downstairs and finally found him lying quietly in his safe space — under my chair in the kitchen,” continued Martin, who wasted no further time in leaving the house.

Within a minute of the trio exiting the front door, the windows blew out and their home erupted into a fireball.

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“It was an inferno,” said Martin, who watched as all of his and Margo’s possessions went up in flames, save the boxer shorts and one shoe he was wearing.

“We lost everything — no one has a plan for something like this and you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

“Due to the trauma, I can’t remember much of what happened, but fi refighters arrived within five minutes and spent three hours tackling the blaze. A fi re investigator later told us that ignition to full blaze can take just three minutes. Half the street were out at 3am watching events unfold, but everyone was fantastic, giving us clothes to wear.

“We put Buddy in the back of our Jeep where it was safe and quiet, before calling William, who agreed to have him for a couple of days.” A colleague of Margo’s kindly off ered to put the three of them up in her house in Camden for a month while they processed the horror of what had happened.

“It was really generous of her, particularly as Buddy could come too, so he joined us after two days,” continued Martin, who hopes to move back into their rebuilt home by the summer.

Although Martin, Margo, and Buddy were all lucky to escape with their lives, it came at a cost. The couple were diagnosed with smoke inhalation, chemical poisoning, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while Martin also suffered an Addisonian crisis, and nearly died.

“After the fire, we were affected on so many levels and just couldn’t function,” recalled Martin, who struggled to cope with even basic day-to-day tasks.

Although Buddy initially showed no ill-effects, Martin took him to be checked over by vets at Medivet Battersea three or four weeks later, as he seemed out of sorts.

“Buddy was lethargic and just not himself,” explained Martin, who was shocked when tests revealed elevated enzyme levels in the spaniel’s blood stream, suggesting smoke inhalation.

“We could tell that he was also psychologically traumatised and was very easily startled. The air-con unit had made banging noises and even closing a door made him nervy, while fireworks became a particular challenge.

“There is no doubt that he suffered to save us but luckily, further tests showed there has been no long-term damage.”

Martin is understandably full of praise and admiration for his brave dog. “We had always valued Buddy, but on the back of his heroics, we are now much more conscious of that value,” he concluded. “But for him, we wouldn’t be here now. In fact, the fi re brigade was crystal clear that we would have died otherwise.

“Buddy’s always had a special place in our hearts but this trauma has brought us all closer together.

“We now pay more attention and listen very carefully when he barks.”

Martin is hugely grateful for the help and support shown by William Dwen and the Battersea and Clapham branches of Medivet, where Buddy has attracted his own fan club among the staff.

“As a result, Buddy is back to where he was — super-loving and just a little bit stubborn,” added Martin.

“But without that streak of stubbornness, I hate to think what would have become of us.”