updated 06/13/2011 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/13/2011 AT 5:00 PM ET
When a fire ripped through country star Trace Adkins’s family home in Brentwood, Tenn., earlier this month, the singer’s family – which includes girls MacKenzie, 13, Brianna, 9 and Trinity, 6, – lost everything. But thanks to the bravery of daughter Brianna, their two dogs survived the blaze, which was caused by a faulty power strip beneath Adkins’s workbench.
As flames engulfed their home on June 4, the girls and their nanny escaped the house and fled to their safe place (Adkins and his wife Rhonda were not at home at the time). But when the 9-year-old realized her puppies could be in jeopardy, she started to go back to save them.
“A neighbor tried to stop her,” Adkins tells PEOPLE Pets. “But she wouldn’t be stopped.” So the neighbor joined her and the two carried the pups to safety.
“They’re her puppies,” the crooner says of the 10-month-old Australian shepherds, Daisy and Bella. “[Brianna] has severe allergies and this is one of the only breeds that she can have. I told her, ‘I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for the way you saved those puppies.’”
Adkins was out of town when he got the call that his house had burned and that his wife and daughters were safe. Following the fire, the family has moved into a small cabin they own south of the city, where they will live until they can rebuild. With one bedroom for Adkins and Rhonda and bunk beds in the basement for their three girls, the house is cozy, he says, but the family has no complaints.
“We’re good. We’re fortunate. We don’t have any room to put stuff – but we don’t have stuff anymore!” jokes Adkins, whose sense of gratitude is reflected in the title of his upcoming album, Proud to Be Here (out Aug. 2), though it was named long before the fire.
“I can’t make any sense of it, but my feeling has not really changed from the moment I found out Rhonda and the girls and the dogs were okay, which was a huge sense of relief,” he says.
Adkins, who spoke to PEOPLE Pets while at CMA Fest promoting the Waggin’ Train Tail Wagging Jingle Contest, which invites songwriters to submit a jingle about their own pups, says he’s an animal lover himself, but because of Brianna’s allergies, they’ve had to go without canine companions until Daisy and Bella came along.
“I’ve always been a guy who’s not big on fake dogs – if they’re not taller than the top of your boot, they’re not a real dog,” he jokes. “But we ended up with girl dogs!”
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