The Santa Rosa Wildfire & Zoe’s Magic Table

My first recollection that Sonoma Valley Regional Park even existed, was from passing the sign at the edge of Highway 12, on my way from George Ranch to Santa Rosa in the summers of 2003 to 2006. There was no way I could have imagined then, that this place I barely acknowledged in my peripheral vision, would one day become vital to my very existence. There was nothing in the view from highway 12, that would alert the casual observer to the magic that lies within the boundaries between Highway 12 and Arnold Drive.

It was the autumn of 2012 when I was inspired to buy my first seasonal pass to Sonoma Regional Parks. I purchased the pass on recommendation of another dog person who described the park as the best park in the county for dogs. I had moved to Oakmont a year before and was now the proud co-father of a beautiful senior dog named Zoe, who lived part time in San Francisco. Everything I’m about to tell you is a product of my love for Zoe. Without her I would never have come to love or understand the great secret of Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

Zoe was already 14 when we took our first walk in the park. She was not in the best of health. Her other dad Tim, had cautioned about too much strenuous exercise. But Zoe had other ideas. Each time we visited the park she walked further and longer. Each month her health and strength improved dramatically. Over the next 16 months the park worked its magic on both of us. The process was so natural, we were so happy, I took it for granted. It wasn’t until Zoe was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I realized what the park really meant to both of us. In the last weeks of her life, I pulled Zoe behind me, through the park, in a small red Radio Flyer wagon. When she died on February 22, 2014, I then realized what role the park had played in creating the best months of my life.

The first few weeks following Zoe’s death were the hardest. Every step along our sacred path was now filled with cherished memories that tugged at my broken heart. Then I became ill. An illness that lasted for two years. In the depths of depression, severe pain and struggle, the one thing that kept me going was the path Zoe and I had walked in Sonoma Valley Regional Park. In September 2014, a memorial table was dedicated on the main path between Highway 12, and Arnold Drive with a plaque that reads: “Zoe The Happy Dog, Feb. 6, 1998 — Feb. 22, 2014, At The Rainbow Bridge, Waiting For Bob and Tim.” Zoe’s table became a shrine. That shrine became a beacon for my continued healing.

In the beginning I walked with a cane to the first curve in the path beyond the gate from the parking lot, with the intent to someday walk all the way to Zoe’s table. Over the next few weeks I slowly made it down the first hill to the first group of picnic tables, then back. Then I was able to walk to the first bench where Zoe had often rested after a long hike. Everywhere were memories to encourage me forward in my quest. Then one day I made it all the way to Zoe’s table! I placed fresh flowers on her table, and vowed to always keep fresh flowers on her shrine!

Each Memorial Day Weekend Zoe’s table has been filled with small stones with the names of dogs and other pets who have gone to the Rainbow Bridge. Throughout the year people have placed stones on the table to remember their pets who have recently passed on. People alternate placing flowers on Zoe’s table to keep them fresh. Dog lovers who followed Zoe’s Facebook page have often asked directions to Zoe’s table when traveling to California on holiday. Sonoma Valley Regional Park has become known around the world because of Zoe The Happy Dog’s Facebook page.

In the fourth year of Zoe’s table, the magic was overwhelming. During the October 2017, Santa Rosa fires, most of Sonoma Valley Regional Park was burned. During the mandatory evacuation, Zoe fans from around the world were focused on the memorial table they had come to love. Offers came in from as far away as Australia and South Africa, to donate money to replace Zoe’s table if it was destroyed by fire. One woman in Indiana built a replacement table and offered to ship it to California.

But the fire magically stopped ten feet from Zoe’s table. A group of Oakmont residents made stones to commemorate the lives of Sonoma County residents lost in the fires, placing the stones on Zoe’s table. Another Sonoma resident built a wooden fence around the stones after they were placed on the ground nearby. So now, this beautiful senior dog who stole the hearts of everyone she met, and everyone who read her story, is looking down from the Rainbow Bridge with her wonderful smile, teaching us all how to heal through remembering.

The emotional moment I find Zoe’s table untouched by fire:



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Robert Starkey

Robert Starkey

World traveler, writer, photographer, dog lover, cancer survivor