7 Shelter Dogs That Saved Lives

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Did you know October is National Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month? While the month-long celebration of adopted critters is nearly over, it’s never too late to take home a wonderful new dog from your local animal shelter. And if companionship and unquestionable love aren’t good enough reasons to adopt a new best friend, these pups show that taking in a shelter dog might even save your life.

1. Pearl

This black lab hasn’t just saved one person’s life—Pearl has saved many lives through her work as a search and rescue dog. Her heroic story started when she was surrendered to an animal shelter when she was 4 years old. Pearl was soon adopted by volunteers from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, who helped train and get her certified as a search dog. Soon, she was partnered with her new owner and handler, Ron Horetski.

As part of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Pearl almost certainly had some notable adventures in her first two years on the job. But she was also on the scene after a massive earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Pearl and six other search and rescue dogs spent hours each day looking for victims trapped under the rubble—some buried up to four stories under the surface. The team managed to bring 12 people to safety.

After returning to the states, Pearl was celebrated as a hero and became the subject of a new book called A New Job for Pearl, written by teaching volunteer Allyn Lee and illustrated by second grade students at Rancho Romero Elementary. While there were plenty of heroic rescue dogs working in Haiti, Pearl was picked as the subject of the book because she came from an animal shelter and could have easily been euthanized instead of rescued. Proceeds from the $10 book were used to cover the cost of training new rescue dogs, which costs $10,000 per animal.

2. Rocky

This yellow lab had every reason not to trust humans—when members of an animal shelter finally caught the timid stray, they discovered he was malnourished and wounded by buckshot. Since his psychological issues meant he wasn’t a candidate for adoption, Lassen County Animal Shelter workers had two options: put him down, or enroll him in their Pups on Parole program. Hoping the abused dog might still be able to come out of his shell, he was enrolled in the program that pairs prison inmates with shelter dogs, allowing both to build confidence and trust.

Rocky was one of the many dogs to have his life turned around through the program. He came out of the experience relaxed and trusting of people. He had such a remarkable story that when one prison employee heard the tale, she immediately decided the dog would be a perfect addition to her family.

Dawn Tibbets knew her husband, Floyd, could use some company on his rock hunting trips in the local canyons. Only a month after Rocky’s adoption, he and Floyd were out in a remote canyon when Floyd's heart began to beat irregularly, which caused him to collapse and go in and out of consciousness. Every time he passed out, Rocky licked his hand until he woke up. Finally, Floyd was conscious enough to try to find his way out of the canyon, but he was disoriented and started walking in the wrong direction. But Rocky kept going the other way, and Floyd followed him. Eventually, the two made it back to the car, all thanks to Rocky’s sense of direction and dedication to the family who brought him home.

3. Duke

In the 6 years since the Brousseaus adopted the exceptionally well-behaved Duke, he had never jumped on the bed—which is exactly why they knew something was wrong when the mutt jumped on their bed in the middle of the night, trembling.

The new parents—their little girl had just been born 9 weeks before—immediately rushed into the child’s room to check on her, only to discover she was not breathing. The parents called 911 and emergency workers were able to rush her to the hospital in time to save her life.

Jenna Brousseau says Duke is the sole reason their baby survived; if he hadn’t woken them up in such a panic, they would have gone back to sleep. The couple is hoping that Duke’s story will inspire others to adopt shelter pets.

4. Bear


Like many large dogs, the aptly named Bear, a 100-pound Shiloh Shepherd, had a hard time finding a new owner when he was in a shelter four years ago. Eventually, though, Texan Debbie Zeisler fell in love with the massive pup and took him home.

Debbie’s decision may have saved her life. Since a bad horse riding accident at 18, Debbie had experienced seizures almost daily—and Bear, it seemed, could predict when they were going to happen, despite having no formal training whatsoever. Bear now leans on Debbie’s legs to warn her when an attack is coming so his master will have time to take her medication. While she has failed to heed the dog’s warnings a few times and fallen as a result, Debbie has been able to handle her condition much better since Bear has been in her life.

Last May, Debbie had a seizure and fell down on the front steps of her home, hitting her head and losing consciousness. Bear ran to neighboring homes and scratched on their doors. While no neighbors answered, an animal control officer spotted the dog and pulled over. As soon as she opened her door, the dog jumped in. The officer read Bear’s tags and saw that he was a seizure alert dog, so she followed him to his home, where she found Debbie semi-conscious and confused. The animal control officer called the paramedics and Bear accompanied Debbie in the ambulance to the hospital.

Bear was later honored with the Annual National Hero Dog Award from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Los Angeles. "This just goes to show how amazing shelter dogs can be," said SPCALA President Madeline Bernstein. "If Debbie had not adopted Bear, where would she and Bear be today? The bond between an animal and his human companion is powerful and life-saving."

5. Queen Sheba

This beautiful pup was passed over time and time again at the Indianapolis Humane Society, but eventually, John Green and his father fell in love with her and brought her home. Only a few months after the family adopted Queen Sheba, John had a heart attack and was unable to call out to his father for help or reach a phone to call paramedics. Fortunately, Sheba noticed that something was wrong and quickly sprang into action, licking John’s dad’s face to get his attention and lead him to the room John was in. Doctors said that John likely wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time if it weren’t for Queen Sheba.

6. Lilly

Boston Police Officer David Lanteigne knew his mother, Christine Spain, could use a therapy dog to help her deal with alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. So he adopted a pit bull named Lilly from the local shelter, and sure enough, the more Christine focused her energy and attention on Lilly, the better she felt and the less she drank. That alone could have saved Christine’s life, but years after her adoption, Lilly saved her owner’s life and sacrificed a part of herself in the process.

Three years after the dog's adoption, Christine was walking Lilly when she collapsed in the worst possible place—on railroad tracks. Fortunately, Lilly sprang into action and started to pull her off of the tracks, and continued working to save her master, even as a train approached at full speed. When the engineer saw the woman and her dog, he tried to stop, but it was too late: The train ran over the dog’s front right leg.

Christine survived the accident only because of Lilly’s actions and while the pup was hurt—her leg had to be amputated—she pulled through and has since been reunited with her family. Christine has since been charged with obstruction and danger on a railroad track, walking on a railroad track, and animal cruelty, but even if she does serve time, Christine’s son, David, will be happy to take care of the animal that saved his mother’s life, and Lilly will certainly be happy to see her master when she is released.

"We saved Lilly, and Lilly saved my mom's life," David said. "My hope is that this story is going to get out and show what pit bulls are truly about. I hope by Lilly going through this, it's going to get other dogs homes."

7. Mabeline

A 17-year-old volunteer at the Friends of Strays animal shelter was walking Mabeline on a path behind the building one day when a registered sex offender chased the girl down, grabbed her by the hair and then pinned her to the ground. While the girl struggled to get free, the 40 pound Rhodesian ridgeback took matters into her own paws, attacking the villain and scaring him off so the girl could escape.

While plenty of dogs have been known to step in to protect their owners, Mabeline’s actions are particularly impressive since the girl was only one of many volunteers at the shelter that helped care for the pup. Still, the ordinarily loving and sweet dog knew her friend was in danger and knew she had to protect her. The attacker has since been arrested.

While the victim of the attack couldn’t take Mabeline home because one of her family members has a severe allergy to dogs, the dog was soon adopted out anyway. Surprisingly, her new owner, Mary Callahan, had no idea that her pup was a hero until a news crew told her about the incident.

Are any of you Flossers the proud owners of dogs that once lived in an animal shelter? If so, have they ever done anything heroic to save you? Tell us in the comments!

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October 31, 2012 - 11:00am
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