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Tucker’s Story

posted November 18th, 2014 by
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In the rubble of his Earthly possessions, John Salazar found what matters most.


By Anna Holton-Dean




May 20, 2013, started out like any other day for John Salazar, a Moore, Okla., resident. He knew there was a chance of severe weather, but nothing like the day would turn out to be.

He went about his morning as usual, taking his chocolate Lab, Tucker, out to do his business before putting him back in his room, closing the baby gate behind him.

John, and Tucker, lived with his then-girlfriend—now fiancé—Amy Boyer, and her cat, Casper.

Business as usual, the couple headed off to work—Amy to downtown and John to CarMax in Edmond where he had been employed for six years.

Later in the day, as weather reports became serious and news of tornadoes spread, John and Amy discussed by phone what they should do about their animals.

Between the phone calls and the time John made it home, the now infamous EF5 tornado struck Moore and leveled his home with Tucker and the cat inside. It was part of a larger weather system that produced other tornadoes as well.

Peak winds reached an estimated 210 mph, killing 24 people and injuring 377 others. The tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m., staying on the ground for 39 minutes over a 17-mile path, crossing through a heavily-populated section of Moore. John’s home was directly in the path of the tornado, which was 1.3 miles wide at its peak.

“At 3 p.m., I realized it was getting close to where we lived,” John says. “Amy got home shortly after it hit. I got there an hour after it hit. Neither of us could drive into the neighborhood, which was less than a mile from the elementary school that was leveled.

“I parked as close as I could get, ran three to four miles to get to the house, and I didn’t even recognize the neighborhood. Signs were gone; most houses were leveled. It didn’t give me a lot of hope of finding Tucker. I couldn’t even tell what street I was on.”

John guessed at which direction his house would be and headed there on foot. He hadn’t talked to Amy since their last phone call before leaving work. When he finally located his house, 90 percent of it was gone.

“Very little was left,” he says. “I finally saw Amy and asked where the animals were. She was in tears and said, ‘Tucker’s gone, the cat too.’”

Tucker’s room was destroyed—the window, roof, Tucker’s bed and the baby gate were all gone. Everything was the opposite of where it should have been, John says.

“My room that I kept all of my clothes in was leaning over, and two walls were missing,” he says. “All of my stuff was gone or strewn around. I lost everything. I thought for sure Tucker was gone.”

He remembers people searching for their animals, and dogs running everywhere through the remains of the neighborhood. People and neighbors were asking one another if their animals had been seen.

By 7 p.m., the police wanted everyone gone from the area in order to search for survivors. “At that point, I was leaving, and I hadn’t found my dog,” John says.

“We heard they were taking dogs to Home Depot and here and there. Several friends were trying to help us find him. It was pretty hard.”

But they had no luck or any leads in finding Tucker.

“We went to bed that night and woke up bright and early to go to the house about 7 a.m. We thought there would be lots of people there; there was talk of looters. My boss, fiancé and I sifted through what we could find,” John says.

As they walked through what had been the entryway of the house, they noticed something sticking out of the rubble. It was Tucker’s nose. He was buried underneath the house, and John quickly dug through the mess to pick him up. Amazingly, he was unharmed.

“Best we can tell,” John says, “he was probably thrown under there. The kitchen, living room and garage were a giant pile; Tucker was in about where the kitchen should be—a good 50 feet from where his room was. It was a very interesting route how he got there.”

In the end, Casper, the cat, was also found alive.

Amidst losing most of his physical possessions, John could have been understandably devastated. But finding Tucker alive and well brought out the positive in a life-altering circumstance, what mattered most.

“When I found him, it felt like nothing else mattered,” John says. “It really put things into perspective on what can be replaced and what can’t. I had come to grips with not finding him, or if we do find him, it won’t be good. It was very challenging because I’ve never lost something that close to me. It was tough.”

It would be impossible to go through such an event, and not have the effects change a person in some ways… or even a dog. John says the ordeal has changed Tucker in that he is more timid than he used to be.

“The biggest thing is at the groomer, she cannot put a blow dryer on him,” John says. “He is scared of the air blowing on him.”

But that hasn’t stopped Tucker from visiting his groomer, Emily Cefalo, at Mia & Company Pet Salon & Spa. John says she has been great with Tucker’s uncertainty after such a traumatic event.

Emily noticed his anxiety during his first grooming last year, but didn’t know about his ordeal. “He was great during his bath,” she says. “Blow drying dogs is not always easy due to noise. The majority of the time, I hand dry as much as possible.

“The minute I turned on the dryer, Tucker got extremely nervous. Not a typical response from a Labrador Retriever. I finished drying him by hand. I wanted Tucker to trust me. That’s my goal with every dog that comes to Mia & Company.”

Tucker’s story is a reminder of that day and the many stories that unfolded, some with happy, and some with sad, endings.

“Like humans, every dog has a story,” Emily says. “Some we know about, and others we may not. I knew he had been through something. When John picked up Tucker, I asked him if he was afraid of noises. He explained Tucker has survived the Moore tornado. I cried after he left that day.

“Reflecting back and remembering lives that were suddenly taken. Tucker is my hero—I have extra space in my heart for him.”