These Incredible Dogs Saved Lives
From rushing into a burning building to getting life-saving help, these heartwarming acts of bravery and selflessness will have you reaching for the tissues.
Regular readers of Modern Dog may recall the story I wrote about my Great Pyrenees/Australian Shepherd cross, Bodie, who posed enormous challenges when we adopted him in 2021. I am happy to say that Bodie has since turned into a happy, well-adjusted, and deeply loved family member, but even happier to report that he also recently became a bonified hero!
The incident occurred when my 87-year-old mother, Muriel Kauffmann, came to visit us in Reno, Nevada, from her home in Vancouver, Canada. Knowing that she often gets up at least once during the night, we made sure there were two nightlights in the guest suite, a table lamp on her nightstand, and a flashlight there as well, so she had plenty of options to light her way in the dark.
Her first night was uneventful, but on the second night, my husband Michael and I were startled awake by Bodie, who started barking his big, floofy head off just after 2:00 a.m. This wasn’t unusual, as Bodie often sounds the alarm if he hears something he deems suspicious outside our high desert home. Worried that he would wake my mother, I did my usual whisper/yell of “Bodie! No barking!” which normally settles him down. That night, though, Bodie wouldn’t hush, instead barking with even greater urgency upon hearing my voice.
Michael then tried his own scolding whisper, but when the frantic barking continued, my husband got out of bed to have a face-to-face “discussion” with Bodie. However, when Michael exited our bedroom, he heard a faint, repetitive sound coming from the guest suite every few seconds. Thinking it was some kind of alarm, he urged me to get up and go check it out.
As I neared the suite, it suddenly became clear that what we were hearing was not an alarm: it was my mother, faintly calling for help. I rushed into the suite and found her on the floor near the bed, her right leg twisted to the side, her face clammy and pale with agony. Despite all of our precautions, she had tripped and fallen upon returning from the bathroom, and as we later found out, she had suffered an extremely serious break to her femur. She was already going into shock, but fortunately, the ambulance got to us quickly, allowing the paramedics to give her the supportive care she needed before whisking her off to the emergency hospital.
While my mother required a complicated surgery and months of rehabilitation after that terrible accident, we are all profoundly aware that the outcome could have been much worse had it not been for Bodie. He obviously knew that something was seriously wrong, and he understood that we needed to know about it, even if it meant disobeying our commands.
The stark fact is that without Bodie, we would never had heard my mother’s faint cries and wouldn’t have found her until many hours later, when it could easily have been too late. I can’t even describe how I felt when the doctors told us that extended shock is often deadly, especially for the elderly. As my grateful mother says, “Bodie saved my life. I have no doubt about that.”
Muriel Kauffmann holding a picture of Bodie.
I have since learned that there are quite a few examples of heroic dogs who have stepped in to help humans in danger, often showing tremendous intuition, intelligence, and courage when they do.
Take, for example, the story of Clover, a young Maremma mix whose cleverness and bravery made all the difference when her owner, Haley Moore, suffered a seizure while out walking through their Stittsville, ON neighbourhood. Moore had no history of health problems, so when she suddenly fell to the ground, completely unconscious and with no people around, it was up to Clover to figure out what to do. As the entire incident was caught by a neighbour’s security camera, we are able to see a video of exactly what this heroic dog did.
First, Clover sniffed Moore’s face as if to rouse her prone owner but got no response. The dog then watched in dismay as a vehicle drove by without stopping. Realizing that she needed to get free, she pulled on her leash until it slipped out of Haley’s grasp. Moments later, when another vehicle started coming up the road, Clover jumped out in front of it, risking her own life in an effort to force the driver to stop.
Dryden Oatway, the driver of that vehicle, did stop to help after nearly hitting the courageous dog. “It was really impressive,” says Oatway. “how Clover actually blocked my way.” While Oatway was doing what he could for Moore, Clover took further action by getting the attention of neighbourhood resident Danielle Pilon, who also came over to offer assistance. But Clover wasn’t done yet. Though she was reluctant to leave the scene, she returned to Moore’s home, where her urgent manner and the fact that she was alone convinced Moore’s parents to follow Clover back to where their daughter was now being tended by paramedics.
Though the reason for the seizure was never discovered, Moore says, “If this ends up happening again, I feel ten times safer knowing Clover will be there for me. She’s a really amazing dog, and I love her to death.”
Then there was Wilson, the Belgian Malinois search and rescue dog who helped the Columbian Special Forces locate four children missing in the Amazon jungle. The Mucutuy family children, including a baby, were lost for 40 days after the plane they were in crashed, killing their mother and all other adults on board. It was the footprints of the dog, who had become separated from his handler, that helped the military zero in on the area where the children were eventually found.
The children also reported that Wilson had actually found them and stayed with them for several days prior to their rescue. After talking to the children about Wilson, their grandfather stated, “He was a faithful friend to them.” Two of the children have even drawn touching portraits of Wilson, who clearly provided them with emotional support and likely offered protection from jaguars and other dangerous animals during the time he was with them.
Unfortunately, Wilson disappeared in the jungle before the children were located, and despite an extensive, 20-day search involving more than 70 military personnel, the dog was never recovered. Jose Dagua, an indigenous leader from the area, believes that Wilson sacrificed his spirit to the jungle in exchange for the return of the children, though some Columbians still hold out hope that brave dog will show up alive someday. What is certain is that Wilson will remain a hero to the Columbian people, especially the four Mucutuy children, who might not be alive today without his efforts to find them.
Another dog who was willing to do whatever it took to save a young life is Blue, a pit bull terrier belonging to Janet Kelly of Detroit, MI. Kelly was out shopping with her fiancé, DaQuan Davis, when Davis’s brother, Demetrius, placed a frantic call to let Kelly know that her rented duplex was on fire. While two of Kelly’s young children were with the couple in the car, the littlest ones, Isabella, four, and 14-month-old Shantel, were at home being looked after by Demetrius. “My heart just dropped,” says Kelly, who rushed home to find the entire house engulfed in flames.
“DESPITE THE FIREFIGHTER’S EFFORTS TO CATCH HIM, BLUE RUSHED BACK INTO THE BLAZE, HEEDLESS OF HIS OWN SAFETY.”
For what seemed like an eternity, Kelly, Davis, and the two older children watched in horror as firemen tried to douse the fire, which had started in the tenant’s apartment below theirs and had quickly spread to the upper apartment and the house next door. “The girls were crying,” recounts Kelly, “because they thought their little sisters hadn’t gotten out.” At that moment, the stunned Kelly couldn’t tell them any different, as the scene was too chaotic for anyone to talk to them.
Finally, after 22 agonizing minutes, what Kelly found out was this: While Demetrius, followed closely by Blue, had been able to get Isabella out, Shantel was still trapped in her playpen, with debris starting to crash down and thick smoke everywhere. Firefighters, having just arrived, would not allow Demetrius back into the house, but Blue was not about to leave baby Shantel alone in the inferno. Despite the firefighter’s efforts to catch him, Blue rushed back into the blaze, heedless of his own safety. According to the firefighters, it was Blue who led them to Shantel’s location. “He was circling around her and barking,” says Kelly, “and he wouldn’t leave until they got her out.” Thanks to Blue’s selfless actions, Shantel escaped safe and unharmed.
“Blue is our saviour,” Kelly told Modern Dog. Kind people have also stepped in to help the family, who lost everything they owned, save for their van. While they were forced to live in the van for a while, a Go Fund Me campaign has allowed the family to find a new home, though they are still struggling to replace things like clothing, furniture, household items and even food. (If you would like to contribute to the campaign, go to: gofund.me/19216565).
Then there was the quick thinking of a feisty scruffball named Jezzie, who saved her owner, Christy Espenshade, from a truly terrible fate. Shortly before Christmas that year, Espenshade had adopted Jezzie, having fallen for the little white terrier mix’s cheerful disposition and adorable doggy smile, which Jezzie managed to maintain despite having just had surgery to correct a birth defect in her left front leg.
Christy Espenshade and Jezzie.
Jezzie was still in a cast when she was brought to her new home in Silverado Canyon, a wooded, semi-remote community in Southern California. As the area had been experiencing a series of unusually heavy and prolonged rainstorms, Espenshade had to wrap Jezzie’s cast in plastic every time they went outside. Espenshade also took another precaution due to the storms: “I did my usual sandbagging, as the nearby dry creek bed tended to fill and flood over my creek-side parking area whenever it rained for several days.”
Still, since the flooding creek had never come anywhere near her home, she felt safe and went about getting ready for Christmas while getting to know her new dog. Jezzie was set up with a comfy bed on the floor in Espenshade’s bedroom in hopes that the recovering pipsqueak wouldn’t attempt to jump up on or down from Espenshade’s tall, antique bed. “She was really good about staying in her own bed at night,” recalls Espenshade, who believes Jezzie understood that she could hurt herself if she tried to get up on anything too high.
Early in the morning, two days before Christmas, however, Espenshade was surprised to be awakened by Jezzie, who had not only jumped up on the bed but was nudging her face with great intent. Shaking off sleep, Espenshade was horrified at the sight of a massive amount of water pouring into the house, the dry creek having turned into a raging river in just a few hours. Moments later, there was a deafening roar caused by rocks, earth, trees and boulders tumbling into the dark water as a massive mudslide bore down on the house. “It was absolutely terrifying,” recalls Espenshade, who managed to throw on some barn boots, grab Jezzie, and flee to a neighbour’s place just in time.
Just to make things even scarier, the power to the area soon winked out, and all they could hear was the bone-shaking cacophony of the destruction going on outside. Says Espenshade, “I couldn’t do a thing but sit with my neighbours in the dark and hold onto Jezzie until daylight. Then the rain decreased, so I went outside and found a scene of complete devastation. The road was mangled with boulders, with branches and broken chunks of asphalt blocking it. My 1953 Ford one-ton pick-up had been picked up, washed into the creek and bashed against the rocks.
“When I went over to my house, I had to climb into a window and step up onto a mass of solid mud up to four feet deep inside my home.” In surveying the damage, Espenshade saw that the flow had crashed through the French doors on the creek side, rushed through the small house and then crashed through the lower level sliding door, completely destroying the contents of the home and partially twisting the structure off of its pier and beam foundations.
“IF JEZZIE HADN’T BEEN THERE THAT NIGHT, I MIGHT NOT HAVE GOTTEN OUT.”
Looking back on that moment, Espenshade says, “I think I was in shock. I don’t remember feeling anything except numbing awe at Mother Nature.” Later on, however, she also felt a different kind of awe at what Jezzie did that night. As she explains, “If Jezzie hadn’t been there that night, the incredible noise made by the slide would likely have woken me up eventually, but I might not have gotten out before the mud came through. I cannot imagine how that would have felt, when the French doors crashed open and the mud, rocks and tree limbs came rushing in. The water line got up to six feet, and the mud pushed heavy furniture and appliances up against the walls. Who could live through that?” Luckily, Jezzie, whom Espenshade calls her “shero,” was there to save the day, and her plucky, positive spirit helped Espenshade get through the difficult weeks and months that followed the disaster.
Even if your pup has not performed some amazing heroic (or sheroic) deed, dog people can attest to the fact that the love we have for these incredible animals—and the love they give us so generously—can be lifesaving in and of itself. Our dogs are always there for us, providing affection and amusement, compassion and friendship, exercise and entertainment. And who knows—that gangly, goofy rescue pup chewing on your favourite pair of shoes might someday end up rescuing you!
Illustration by Michelle Simpson