A fire destroyed a home in Santa Rosa Beach on Oct. 28, killing a dog trapped inside. The owner said Jenny, his Labrador retriever, was his best friend and hunting buddy

SANTA ROSA BEACH — While seven puppies may have escaped a house fire Oct. 28, their mother wasn’t as lucky.


Their owner, Aubrey Harpenau, said nearly a week later that he was completely blindsided by the blaze.


"It was just not something I was expecting; coming home from work to not having a dog or a house or all my personal belongings," he said.


Harpenau left for work about 5 a.m. Worried that his dog Jenny might follow him down the road, he decided to leave the 5-year-old Labrador retriever inside for the day. She had delivered a litter of puppies seven weeks earlier, which were in a kennel near the front porch.


Harpenau got a call about 4 p.m. from one of his friends that his home had burned to the ground.


"He was going to check a trail camera and noticed some smoke coming from my house," he said, adding that his friend hunts deer behind the property. "He thought that I was home from work early and maybe having a fire out back. ... He called me right away, and I thought he was joking. ... I couldn’t believe it."


Harpenau rushed home to find firefighters with the South Walton Fire District adding water to the rubble. With them were the seven puppies that had managed to escape.


"They were already little escape artists from the get-go," he said. "You couldn’t even tell they had just been through a fire. There were no scratches and they weren’t acting like they were scared. They were just happy-go-lucky."


Unfortunately, Jenny didn’t survive.


"I didn’t go look at her because (the firefighters) told me not to," he said, adding that she was found in the same spot he’d left her that morning. "Most likely, she never woke up or knew that anything happened. ... She probably died from the toxic smoke before she ever work up."


Harpenau said the firefighters took it upon themselves to bury his "best friend" and "best hunting buddy" in the front yard.


For Sammy Sanchez, fire marshal for South Walton Fire District, the deed wasn’t a surprise because many of his crew members are animal lovers.


"They don’t asked to be recognized for a lot of these deeds, and they were just showing compassion ... for a guy that lost everything," Sanchez said. " I wouldn’t expect anything less of them."


He added that a cause of the fire is still unknown because the home was destroyed.