There’s no disputing that animals possess a sixth sense for danger. Here, as we celebrate Love Your Pet Month in February, we share five inspiring stories of pet heroes who saved the lives of those they loved.
Pet: German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois
At just two years of age, Lucca, a half German shepherd and Belgian Malinois, completed extensive training to become a top search dog that would be used for a variety of military operations specific to open areas, roads, vehicles, and buildings in the effort to find ammunition, weapons, and explosives. For her first five years of service, Lucca worked with her initial handler, Gunnery Sergeant Willingham but was then handed off to one of Willingham’s teams working in Afghanistan, Corporal Juan Rodriguez.
Prior to March 2013, Lucca had already provided exemplary service during two Iraq tours of duty in 2007 and 2008 and one Afghanistan tour in 2011. Over that period, this service dog led more than 400 patrols, discovered countless explosive devices, and was directly involved with the apprehension of four insurgents later determined to be Improvised Explosive Device or IED manufacturers that supported numerous terrorist cells in the region.
Lucca’s final mission occurred on March 23, 2013 while out on patrol with her handler Rodriguez and several other Marines. Walking ahead, she indicated the presence of an IED. After being safely detonated, she continued her search for secondary explosives at which time a device went off causing severe burns to her chest and severely injuring her front left leg. Although in horrible condition and extreme pain, her first response was to run to her handler in an attempt to protect him as well as other Marines on the mission.
Immediately, a tourniquet was applied and proper first aid administered. Lucca was then airlifted to the unit’s medical center where she was stabilized before being flown back to Germany and then onto Camp Pendleton. There, she underwent surgery to have her injured leg amputated and completed special physical rehabilitation. To no surprise of her handler or the other Marines whose lives she had saved, Lucca made a miraculous recovery.
Lucca has since turned eight and now resides with her first handler Willingham and his family while enjoy a life of pampering and gratitude. Throughout her service with the United States military, this amazing service dog found over 40 explosive devices and in doing so saved the lives of many men and women working the frontlines. Lucca is more than a brave soldier – she is a miracle dog that while serving with the United States Marine Corps in the ongoing battle against terrorism has won the hearts of millions of people.
Where: Phoenix, Arizona
Kay Harrison figured there was some kind of trouble when her dog, Sammy, started barking and wouldn’t stop outside her place in Tonopah.
Harrison said she stepped out to see what was going on, and the dog jumped in front of her, blocking her from taking another step. Harrison said she heard a rattle and leaned to see a rattlesnake in a flower bed by the door.
“She saved my life,” Harrison said of her 8-year-old Catahoula. “She got between me and the snake.”
Warmer weather means venomous snakes and other poisonous creatures are getting more active after winter hibernation. The Arizona Game and Fish Department says people need to be more vigilant. “You just need to watch where you put your hands and feet,” said Thomas R. Jones, the agency’s amphibians and reptiles program manager.
The snake bit Sammy on the head. Harrison thinks it happened when she turned to yell for help. The dog immediately got lethargic and suffered acute pain. Harrison could hardly get her into a Jeep for the trip to the veterinarian. Swelling eventually closed one of her eyes, but Sammy made it. The dog goes home today after about five days in a Buckeye veterinary clinic. Wally Wass, a veterinarian who works part-time in the clinic, said the dog probably would not have survived without the snake-bite vaccine he got last summer.
Little Joe vs. the Black Bear
Pet: Yorkshire Terrier
Where: Ringwood, New Jersey
Deborah Epstein’s Yorkie, Joe, proved that guard dogs sometimes come in small packages. On a warm July day in 2013, Joe and his owner were lounging on Deborah’s front porch when the phone rang. Deborah stepped inside to answer it, leaving the front door open. Seconds later, Joe began barking excitedly. That’s not unusual for a terrier, especially this little shelter dog, but he “sounded a little more furious than usual,” Deborah said.
She turned around to see a 100-pound black bear making its way toward Joe’s food bowl in the living room. Big mistake. “You don’t touch [Joe’s food],” said Deborah. She watched in awe as the six-pound dog growled, barked, lunged, and nipped at the bear until it retreated. “Joe chased it right back out the door,” Deborah said. The bear escaped into the woods behind Deborah’s house.
The prospect of losing his food may have propelled Joe into action, but he managed to defend his territory and protect his owner at the same time.
“I saved him from the pound, and he saved me from a bear,” Deborah said. “We’re even.”
Where: Fort Smith, Arkansas
Pretty-feathered birds can do more than repeat “Polly want a cracker?”.
In September 2011, in Fort Smith, Ark., Jack Duke’s pet macaw, Charlie, defended his owner during a home invasion, according to a 5 News reporter. Two men allegedly rang Duke’s doorbell and assaulted him, beating him and demanding pills. But Charlie was not going to sit by and let his owner get hurt.
Duke says Charlie squawked and bit the intruders, taking a chunk out of one’s arm and eventually scaring both men off. The bird and his owner survived unharmed.
Max’s Heroic Choice
Breed: German Shepherd
Where: Novato, California
Late one night in February 2014, Jack Farell, 80, called 911 to report a dog attack. He had woken up bleeding on his kitchen floor, his left arm in the jaws of his adopted German shepherd, Max. “I thought he had turned on me,” said Jack, a retired firefighter.
But as emergency personnel figured out later, Max had actually saved Jack from carbon monoxide poisoning.
When Jack had gotten out of bed during the night, he’d passed out from inhaling the gas and collapsed to the floor. Max likely tried to wake the man by clawing his face, to no avail. So the dog took Jack’s left arm in his mouth and pulled the comatose man from the bedroom and down the hall, presumably intending to drag Jack out of the house.
When Jack learned the truth, his heart flooded with gratitude. “He saved my life,” Jack said.