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Mobile home owner, pets joyfully reunited after tornado

Hospitalized since storm, man says having dogs back is the ‘best feeling’

posted May 18, 2017 11:03 p.m. | updated May 18, 2017 11:03 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Chris Vetter. bio | email

  • con_Belcher_2_051917-1
    Contributed photo | Enlarge
    - Ron Belcher reunites with his dogs, Tazz and Coco, Thursday at Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake. Belcher and his pets were separated in the wake of the tornado that struck Belcher's home Tuesday near Chetek.

Ron Belcher couldn’t contain his emotions when he was reunited with his two 14-year-old dogs Thursday — two days after the tornado that ripped through the Prairie Lake Estates mobile home separated them.

“My heart was filled with joy, and I busted out crying,” Belcher said from his hospital bed at Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake. “It’s just the best feeling I’ve had since this happened.”

Belcher, 54, was in his mobile home Tuesday, along with his brother, Michael. The dogs, Tazz, a Pomeranian, and Coco, a Siberian husky, also were inside the trailer when the tornado struck.

“Ours is completely gone,” Belcher said. “I had no time to think. I’m thankful to be alive.”

Immediately after the storm, Belcher saw Coco but didn’t see Tazz, and he was fearful she was buried in the debris. However, Belcher had a severely injured hand, and he wasn’t able to stay to take care of the animals.

“The EMTs wanted us to get to the hospital,” he said.

While at the hospital, Belcher told his nurse, Ciara Rockow, about his concern for his missing dogs. Rockow made a few calls and located the missing animals at Animal Hospital of Chetek. The pets and owner were reunited Thursday.

Belcher said it will still be a few days before he goes home as he is expected to have surgery on his left hand on Tuesday. But he’s no longer worried about his missing pets.

“I think it will speed up my recovery,” Belcher said. “It would have been a big void in my life. They bring a lot of joy to the house.”

In the wake of Tuesday’s tornado, cleanup will kick into full gear today.

“We’re setting up volunteers, getting gloves and dumpsters together,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald didn’t have any updated damage estimates, but he said it is definitely in the “tens of millions” of dollars. As he’s traveled along the storm’s path, he is surprised at the level of devastation, beyond what occurred at the trailer park.

“It just keeps getting wider and wider, the range of our damage,” Fitzgerald said.

Volunteers can meet at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cameron, located at the intersection of U.S. 8 and 53, beginning at 8 a.m. today through 5 p.m., and again on Saturday and Sunday.

Volunteers should wear closed shoes, long pants and long-sleeved shirts. They are reminded to bring bug spray. No minors are allowed at the disaster sites. People should remember to not overwork themselves, work safely, avoid downed power lines and drink plenty of fluids.

Chetek is opening the county/​city brush site at 11 a.m. on Hockmyer Drive in the industrial park for downed tree limbs and logs. The brush site is not accepting debris.

The American Red Cross is continuing to operate at Mosaic Telecom in Cameron, but it is suspending donations of clothing and food at this time. It continues to accept monetary donations.

Boaters are reminded to use caution while heading out on area lakes as there are massive amounts of debris in the water.

The Barron County sheriff’s office is also warning people of scams.

“For homeowners, the sudden fury of these seasonal storms can lead to extensive structural and landscape damage, leaving them scrambling to hire help in getting their properties back in order,” the sheriff’s office wrote on its Facebook page. “The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks homeowners affected by storm damage to seek trusted local contractors for home repair projects and to be on the lookout for transient contractors (or ‘storm chasers’).”

A good first step with a storm repair project should be to research trusted local contractors. Ask for references from friends, family members and co-workers, and contact DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128 to find out about complaints against particular businesses.

Contact: 715-723-0303,