Good Girl; Lyle dog saves family by alerting them during house fire

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, August 28, 2019

LYLE—If Theresa Groesbeck had stayed in bed on Monday, July 29, she would have never woken up again.

Groesbeck was in the yard at her home on 202 Pine St. in Lyle, alongside her 5-year-old pit bull Nayla. While outside watering the garden, the Albert Lea teacher smelled burning wet leaves. It was out of the norm for Groesbeck to be up at 7:30 a.m. but she felt the need to be outside.

The smell of burning leaves grew stronger, but Groesbeck couldn’t find the source and decided to head back indoors to make a phone call to friends. It was a little before 9 a.m. when she noticed that Nayla was whining and pushing Groesbeck’s legs with her head. Normally, her dog would whine and then quiet down if Groesbeck asked her to quiet down, but this time, Nayla’s behavior was more urgent and she growled.

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Groesbeck finally hung up the phone and went through the kitchen door, where she was then greeted by something terrifying. There was a fire that had broken out in the house.

“Nayla was livid,” Groesbeck recalled. “She was pulling at me. Usually when she sees cats, she gets yippy and whiney. No, this time she was forceful and growling. Nayla kept pushing me a lot more urgently. It was definitely more intense than usual with her pushing, and that’s when I saw the orange glow and the sound of crackling.”

A 100-year-old door was the only barrier keeping the flames contained temporarily as Groesbeck ran for the exit with Nayla following quickly at her heels.

After rounding the corner and escaping through the backyard, Groesbeck turned to see her home engulfed in flames. Nayla had bounded to the park across the street, where someone had found her sitting and staring at the burning house a safe distance away.

“I called the fire department, and within eight minutes, they put the fire out,” Groesbeck said. “They were shoving things out of the window upstairs and trying to keep things from smoldering and coming back up again.”

The Groesbeck’s home, which was ravenged by fire earlier this year is under repair in Lyle. Eric Johnson/

The state fire marshal deemed the fire “a freak accident” and no official cause was found. The start of the fire happened outside, and eventually fought its way inside, resulting in an estimated $200,000 in damages.

Insurance covered all of the repairs, with a new roof being installed on Tuesday afternoon.

Yet, there were people willing to come help the Groesbecks. Nayla was taken by Camp Dog in Iowa by a friend of Groebecks at no cost while the family headed on their vacation that had already been prepaid. They had a chance to clear their minds before tackling the problem ahead of them.

For now, the Groesbecks are living inside their camper on the outskirts of town at a campground they created for family. They’re in the process of finding a rental house to move into until repairs could be finished, at the earliest, by March 2020.

Luckily, no one was injured or killed in the fire. Nayla suffered a minor burn on her nose after pressing it against the door before warning Groesbeck about it. Taking a moment, it suddenly came to her that Nayla had essentially saved her life. There was no mistaking it, she said.

“It was Nayla,” Groesbeck said. “I wouldn’t have noticed it if she hadn’t started whining and pushing me. Had I been upstairs sleeping, then I wouldn’t have been able to come down the stairs. The fire was in that area. When we ran, she never ran ahead of me. It was like she wanted me to run out first and save myself.”

Girl’s best friend

Nayla was adopted by the Groesbecks in October 2015. Although Groesbeck hadn’t intended on bringing home a pet, the pit bull came up to her, and immediately started taking a liking to her.

“My husband was saying that ‘she’s your dog,’” Groesbeck said. “I wasn’t planning on bringing a dog home, but she was mine.”

Knowing that the public had a negative misconception about pit bulls, Groesbeck worked hard on Nayla. She trained her not to jump on people and to maintain her sweet personality around strangers. The dog would growl at people who she thought would come to harm her owners, but Groesbeck said Nayla would be sweet when she knew there was no threat.

Ironically enough, the Groesbecks had saved Nayla’s life before. Their dog had not been able to digest bones, and her stomach was badly impacted and blocked. She was very dehydrated, and the veterinarian notified the family that Nayla may die. However, the Groesbecks decided that they wanted to get emergency surgery for her.

“She’s always been there for us,” Groesbeck said. “She’s sweet and calm. She’s very empathetic. She knows when someone needs her, and will stay with them. I think dogs know what we need.”

That empathy could have been what saved Groesbeck’s life. The house that the family purchased and remodeled in 1997 was severely damaged from smoke and water. Precious family keepsakes were destroyed or damaged. Memories belonging to the Groesbecks’ daughters were scorched.

It was a hard moment for the family, knowing their home was on fire. It was also Groesbeck’s husband, Dennis’ birthday. Instead of making a wish on birthday candles, the family witnessed firefighters combating the inferno that incinerated a good portion of their home.

“It’s still so surreal,” Groesbeck said. “It’s surreal having to live in someone else’s house and it’s overwhelming to do inventory. I made thousands of entries on it. It’s gonna be a long process.”

There were some miracles from this tragedy. Groesbeck said while many of the keepsakes and heirlooms such as their family’s old quilts, whichwere passed down generations and trunks, which were brought over from Germany were melted or burned, she found that her wedding dress that her grandmother made for Groebeck’s mother, remained untouched.

“There were little things that we found in the ashes,” Groesbeck said. “My daughters found memories from high school that they had completely forgotten about, and they were remembering all the stuff that happened back then. The reality sunk in for them, and they were sad. It was devastating, but we try to remember that it could’ve been worse, and our house could have been completely gone.”

As for her best pal Nayla, Groesbeck said there weren’t enough words to describe the love she had for her dog, who now paid back her owner’s love twice over.

“Thank you, Nayla,” she said to her best friend. “We owe our lives to you.”