Humorist Josh Billings once said, "a dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than he loves himself." Never is that sentiment more obvious than during a life or death emergency. Time after time, dogs display loyalty, bravery, and intelligence in the face of imminent danger to protect their family members.
The relationship between dogs and humans goes back millennia. The remains of the earliest traceable domesticated dog were found during World War I, though it wasn't until scientists revealed that its mandible was a direct ancestor of modern domesticated dogs that lived around 14,500 years ago. After centuries upon centuries of selective breeding, dogs are now the most abundant terrestrial carnivores on the planet and come in all manners of shapes, sizes, and colors.
Hollywood is chock full of movies about man's best friend; IMDb lists 12,524 movies and TV shows with the keyword "dog," from 2017's "A Dog's Purpose," starring Josh Gad, to Wes Anderson's stop-motion masterwork "Isle of Dogs." Both stories, along with countless others, detail the bond between a dog and their human companion, a bond that transcends distance and time. These bonds aren't exaggerated by the movies. As you'll learn, the relationship between you and your dog can save your life.
Whether they're elderly, blind, scared or hurt, dogs have repeatedly taken split-second action to rescue people—most times, the very person who rescued them. From car accidents and house fires to near-drownings and overseas combat, countless humans owe their lives to the bravery and determination of their dogs, a neighbor's dog or even a four-legged stranger. Here are 20 heartwarming examples of why dogs truly are man's best friend. The photos of dogs adjoining the following stories are not the actual dogs being discussed but represent similar breeds.
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A dog named Peanut, who endured appalling abuse before being adopted into a loving home, in 2017 went from rescued to rescuer. That year, People magazine reported that Peanut's frantic barking alerted her owners to trouble outside their Michigan home. Following her out in the cold, they found a hypothermic, 3-year-old girl near death: She had wandered away from an abusive home of her own. When first responders arrived at the house, the traumatized girl reportedly mouthed the word "doggie."
In the same winter of 2017, in the frigid Michigan wilderness, a man slipped in the snow and broke his neck. As he lay paralyzed, he believed he was fated to freeze to death. His golden retriever, Kelsey, however, was determined to save him. The Telegraph reported that Kelsey lay on top of her owner to keep him warm for a full 19 hours, barking incessantly until help arrived, long after her owner lost consciousness.
Animal Planet recently profiled a police officer in Selma, Ala., who owes his life to a German shepherd K9 officer named Princess. When a drug suspect resisted arrest, a struggle ensued, and the officer realized he was in danger of being shot—and so did Princess. Princess came to her partner’s aid, placing herself between the deputy and danger, and using her jaws to force the suspect to surrender.
In 2018, a viral video that originated in Spain showed Poncho, a cocker spaniel, performing CPR on a human being. The officer was pretending to be unconscious, and Poncho didn’t hesitate to show his very special talent. While it wasn't a real-life emergency, the video captured the world's attention. CBS reported that it was viewed over two million times.
In the spring of 2018, a local Fox affiliate in Candor, N.Y., reported that a Yorkshire terrier named Jazzy made the leap from rescue dog to rescuer. When Jazzy's diabetic owner fell unconscious, she tried to wake him by nudging his chin and barking frantically. This alerted the man’s mother, who was able to wake him before he went into diabetic shock. Thanks to Jazzy, her owner survived.
Thomas Peterson likely would have died in the fire that was consuming his home in Rome, NY, had it not been for his trusty dog, Thor. A local CBS affiliate reported that Thor recognized the danger his sleeping master was in and ran into Peterson's room. Thor used his bellowing bark to wake him up, giving him just enough time to escape the flames.
An 87-year-old man in Boynton Beach, Fla., probably owes his life to his dog, Buddy. A local news station reported that when the elderly man fell and couldn't get up, the 12-year-old Buddy—no spring chicken himself—sprang into action. The dog sensed the danger, broke through a screen door, ran to a neighbor's house, alerted them to the danger and led them over to the injured man, who was then saved.
Some dogs call for help by barking, but not Major. When his owner, a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD after being wounded in action, was overwhelmed with a seizure, the Labrador/pitbull mix called 911 by stepping on his owner's iPhone. Thinking it was a prank or accidental call, dispatchers repeatedly hung up, which forced the service dog to call emergency services not once, but 10 times as reported by the Huffington Post in 2013.
Also in 2013, another pitbull had to struggle through much more than a few dropped calls to save her owner. According to reports, the dog named Lefty jumped in front of her owner when a gunman tried to shoot him during a terrifying home invasion. Lefty took the bullet instead, and although she survived, doctors had to amputate her leg. Despite the major surgery, she has adjusted well to her three-legged life and remains happily by her owner’s side.
Deep in the Semenic Mountains of Romania, a cyclist named Martin broke his collarbone and dislocated his hip during a winter bike crash. Alone and helpless, he almost certainly would have died from hypothermia in the frozen wilderness had it not been for the kind and quick action of a stray dog who snuggled up and shared his body heat with the ill-fated cyclist. Later adopted by a city official, the dog now known as Max bought the man enough time for rescuers to find him alive.
In 2012, a local NBC affiliate told the tale of a hero dog who saved the life of a 74-year-old neighbor. The elderly woman was rendered helpless after a hard fall in her yard and her cries for help went unnoticed. Her neighbor’s dog, Cooper, however, sensed her trouble and barked until his owner came over to check on the commotion. Thanks to Cooper, he discovered the injured woman, who made a full recovery.
In 2018, a golden retriever named Todd returned from a hiking trip in Arizona with a severely swollen snout. That's because he took a full-force rattlesnake bite to the face when he jumped between the dangerous snake and his owner, who was unaware she was about to step on one of the deadliest animals on Earth.
In 2012, the Huffington Post reported on the story of a tragedy averted by a hero dog. The mother of a 14-month-old child lost sight of the toddler for just a few seconds—long enough for the boy to fall into the family's swimming pool. While she didn't see the accident, Bear the family dog did and acted swiftly. When the panicked mother finally located her child, he was floating in the water face up on top of Bear, who kept the boy afloat by balancing him on his back.
Pitbulls are notorious for their powerful bites, and a special baby pit named Sasha used hers for good during a fire in Stockton, Calif. A local news report shared that as the fire spread to Sasha's home, her owners ran inside to save their baby, only to see Sasha had it covered. The pit puppy was already dragging the tot to safety—teeth firmly planted on the baby's diaper.
In 2017, a king shepherd from British Columbia named Sako was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame for an amazing act of heroism. Having survived a car accident that killed all passengers apart from Sako and his owner, the dog took care of his badly wounded master. Sako stayed with the teenager, keeping him warm, leading him to water, and fighting off coyotes until rescuers finally arrived, ending a 40-hour ordeal.
That he was deaf and mostly blind did not stop a 17-year-old dog named Max from taking on the role of hero. An Australian publication reported that when 3-year-old Aurora wandered off and got lost in the remote Australian wilderness, Max stayed with her throughout the long, rainy night. When rescuers approached, they first found Max, who then led them to the little girl; she escaped scratched and afraid but otherwise unharmed.
Not one but two hero dogs are responsible for saving a Michigan woman from freezing to death earlier in 2018. Two labradoodles named Adam and Eva began acting strangely and begging to be let outside off of their normal schedule. When the door opened, the doggie duo ran to the aid of a woman in her 80s, who was wearing only a nightgown and had collapsed on the ground.
After an earthquake struck Japan in 2011, a tiny Shih Tzu named Babu frantically alerted her elderly owner that she wanted to go outside. When she opened the door, the dog led the woman up a steep hill at a fast pace in the opposite direction from which she usually walks. Public Radio International reported that the dog seemed to have sensed the impending doom—a massive tsunami swallowed the woman's home and much of the town moments later.
In 2018, CNN told the story of an obese, diabetic man with high cholesterol who was depressed and on the verge of death. His doctor ordered him to change his diet and adopt a dog. He brought home an obese pooch that suffered from ailments similar to his own, and when they began their soon-to-be ritual of twice-daily walks, the pair quickly formed a bond and a healthy routine. Ten months later, the man had dropped from 340 pounds to a svelte 185—and he had a new best friend.
In 2012, a Belgian malinois Army dog named Layka lost a leg after being shot four times with an AK-47 while clearing a Taliban compound in Afghanistan. The soldiers she served credited her actions with saving their lives. On their return home to America, one of them, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, adopted the three-legged dog of war.
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