When Eve and Norman Fertig rescued a sick, two-week-old half wolf, half German shepherd puppy from a breeder almost seven years ago, they'd never dreamed that the animal one day would save their lives.
"God is watching; he's watching all the time," Eve Fertig told FOXNews from her home at the Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Alden, N.Y.
He apparently was watching on Oct. 12, when the 81-year-old Fertigs were treating injured animals in the forest sanctuary on their property. One such animal is a near-18-year-old raven, while another is a crow who was shot, blind in one eye with two broken legs. It was routine for the couple to feed and exercise the dozen or so animals there around 7 p.m. every night.
"While we're in there, the lights go out and I realized something's wrong," Eve Fertig said. "We go outside to see what's happening and down comes one massive tree … the trees came down across us."
The massive storm that hit upstate New York that night felled trees, blocking the Fertig's path to the other sanctuary buildings — such as the school and storage building — and to their home, which was at least 200 feet away.
"We were in big trouble. … I said to my husband, 'I think we could die out here,'" Eve said.
The Fertigs huddled in a narrow alley between the hospital building and the aviary, where they were sheltered from falling trees. They couldn't climb over the trees without injuring themselves. Neither had warm clothes on since it was a clear, crisp fall day just a few hours ago. They hugged each other for warmth, since by 9:30 p.m., temperatures had dropped.
"I wasn't prepared for this … I thought, 'we're trapped, we're absolutely trapped,'" Eve said. "That's when Shana began to dig beneath the fallen trees."
The 160-pound dog that habitually follows her owners around — Eve likens it to "Mary had a little lamb," when the lamb went everywhere Mary went — eventually found the Fertigs and began digging a path in the snow with her teeth and claws underneath the fallen trees, similar to a mineshaft, and barking as if to tell them to follow.
A reluctant Norm said, "I had enough in Okinawa in a foxhole," referring to his service in World War II.
"'Norman, if you do not follow me, I will get a divorce,'" Eve said to her husband of 62 years. "That did it. He said, 'a divorce? That would scandal our family.' I said, 'all of our family is dead, Norman!'"
After Shana tunneled all the way to the house — a process that took until about 11:30 p.m. — she came back, grabbed the sleeve of Eve's jacket, and threw the 86-pound woman over her back and neck, which Eve described as "as wide as our kitchen shelf."
Norman grabbed Eve's legs, and the dog pulled them through the tunnel, under the trees and through an opening in a fence to the house, at which they arrived around 2 a.m.
"It was the most heroic thing I've ever seen in my life," Eve said. "We opened the door and we just fell in and she laid on top of us and just stayed there and kept us alive … that's where we laid until the fireman found us."
There was no electricity and no heat in the house, so Shana acted as a living, breathing generator for the exhausted Fertigs until the local fire department arrived the next morning.
Concerned neighbors — many of whom had children Eve taught — who couldn't get hold of the elderly couple via telephone throughout the night had called the Town Line Fire Department. But when the fire department urged the Fertigs to go to the firehouse to take shelter along with 100 others, they told them they would have to leave Shana behind.
"We said, 'we don't go anywhere without her.' ... I said, 'we'll stay until the people are gone and we'll take Shana,'" Eve said.
So the couple stayed at home with Shana until Sunday, when the firehouse emptied out. During the three days in a house with no power, heat or hot water, Shana slept with her owners to keep them warm.
"She kept us alive. She really did," Eve said.
Also during that time, firefighters not only helped clear trees from their grounds, but they brought food and water for both human and animal.
"They kept looking at that tunnel and said, 'we've never seen anything like it,'" she said. "I can't thank them enough — they're heroes."
When they went to the firehouse Sunday, Shana followed the Fertigs everywhere, even to the bathroom. And she was 'spoiled rotten' by the fire crews there, Eve said. She said the fire chiefs said her story of being saved by her pet rejuvenated exhausted fire teams. "The story, they said, just gave them new hope."