10 Stories of Lifesaving Dogs

He's unbelievable! He's some dog! He's a lifesaver! That's what l'll call him, too! Ol' Lifesaver! That will be your name! -Navin R. Johnson in The Jerk

Dogs are wonderful. They are goofy and fun and smart and dedicated. Most of the time, they are just fun to be around, but when the situation calls for it, some dogs go above and beyond the call of duty. Out of many, many heroic dog tales, here are ten dogs who recently saved someone's life. That's a good dog.

1. Naida the Siberian Lifeguard

Four-year-old Andrei Pavlov was feeding ducks near his home in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, when he fell through the ice into the freezing water of a pond. A stray dog named Naida immediately began barking frantically. Naida had followed Andrei around that day, which Andrei's mother says shows the dog had a premonition of trouble. A woman who feeds the stray dogs of the Siberian city responded to Naida's barking and followed the dog back to the pond. Nearby workers helped her pull the boy out of the freezing water. Andrei spent a few days in the hospital recovering. Naida was adopted by a family that lives 500 km away. The canine adoption was arranged before the near-drowning incident, and the new owners are particularly proud of Naida's heroism.

2. Treo the Bomb-sniffer

Treo is a retired member of the British military, and a decorated war hero. The black Labrador was a member of the 104 Military Working Dog Support Unit and served in Afghanistan. There, the trained sniffer twice found hidden bombs in Helmand province in 2008. Treo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest military honor for an animal in Britain, in 2010. Sgt. Dave Heyhoe was Treo's handler in the military, and the two served together in Northern Ireland before being shipped to Afghanistan. When both completed their military service, Treo went home to live with Heyhoe, who said Treo's action saved the lives of many soldiers.

3. Max the Canine Shield

Osmar Persisco of Garibaldi, Brazil, took his dog Max out for exercise in a field and was approached by two robbers who demanded his car keys. When Persisco declined, they shot him, grazing the man's head. That's when Max went into action, jumping up to attack the two men. One ran away immediately, the other shot Max twice in the chest and once in the leg before fleeing himself. Persisco rushed his protector to the vet, where Max was successfully treated for his injuries.

4. Bandit the Smoke Alarm

The DeStefani family of Mays Landing, New Jersey, owe their lives to a small Pomeranian-poodle mix that wasn't even their dog! They were watching Bandit while her owner, Marta DeGennaro, was out of town. Rich DeStefani had put a hairbrush into boiling water to sterilize it, then forgot the pot on the stove when the family went to bed for the night. By 3:30AM, the water was gone and the burning plastic filled the house with toxic smoke. Newly-purchased smoke detectors did not go off. But Bandit jumped up on Jennifer DeStefani as she slept until she awoke and alerted her husband and 9-year-old daughter. One smoke detector finally sounded an alarm- after the fire department arrived! The fire was limited to the stove, but the home sustained serious smoke damage. And Bandit was hailed as a hero.

5. Target the War Hero

Georgia National Guardsman Chris Duke credits three stray dogs he befriended in Afghanistan with saving his life -and the lives of his entire unit. The dogs, Sasha, Rufus, and Target, raised an alarm as a suicide bomber approached their barracks. The dogs attacked and bit the bomber, who blew himself up before gaining entrance. Sasha was so wounded she had to be put down. The other two recovered from their injuries. When Duke returned to the US, he told the story of the dogs left behind, which led to a fund-raising effort that successfully brought Rufus and Target to the United States. Rufus went to live with Chris Duke, and Target went to the home of Sgt. Terry Young, another survivor of the incident, in Arizona.

Target was not used to being confined. In November of 2010, she escaped from her yard. Someone reported the loose dog, and Target was picked up by animal control. Sgt. Young checked the shelter's website and found the dog, and paid the fine online on a Friday. On Monday, he went to retrieve Target and discovered she had been euthanized by mistake. Target is memorialized at her Facebook page.

6. Buddy the GPS Dog

Ben Heinrichs of Caswell Lakes, Alaska, suffered burns on his face and hand when a spark from a heater ignited gasoline in his car repair shop. Heinrichs ran out and rolled in the snow to extinguish the flames, then went back to make sure his dog Buddy escaped from the burning garage. He told the German shepherd to go get help, and Buddy took off. Heinrichs said the dog had no special training, but just knew what needed to be done. Emergency services received a call about the fire, but responding State Trooper Terrence Shanigan couldn't find the garage because his GPS system wasn't working properly. But he saw a frantic dog and followed him on a hunch.

A video shot by the trooper's dashboard camera shows Buddy trotting along the side of the road coming toward the officer, then looking at the vehicle and breaking into a run as Shanigan follows. The dog runs ahead of the patrol vehicle and takes a left turn, ending up at the burning structure.

The workshop was destroyed, but firefighters saved Heinrichs' nearby home. For his actions, Buddy was honored at a hero's ceremony from the Alaska State Police.

7. Kiko the Biter

You wouldn't think that the act of biting off a man's toe would be a lifesaving act, but that's exactly what happened to Jerry Douthett of Rockford, Michigan. Douthett had been nursing trouble with a toe for months, but hadn't sought medical attention. The toe became infected, and Douthett's wife insisted he have it checked. Douthett agreed, but decided to bolster his courage first with several beers and two giant margaritas. His wife took him home where he passed out in bed. That's when his terrier, Kiko, took matters into his own hands. Or mouth, as it were. Kiko chewed most of Douthett's infected toe off as he slept. When he awoke to find his toe gone, he could no longer put off a trip to the hospital. There, doctors found Douthett's blood sugar to be a dangerously high 560 -when it should be below 120. They also amputated what was left of his toe, since the infection went down to the bone. Douthett's undiagnosed diabetes probably caused him to not feel his toe being chewed off. He considered putting Kiko down for his actions, but after considering that the dog inadvertently saved his life, Douthett decided against euthanization. Meanwhile, Douthett is receiving treatment for diabetes, and has sworn off alcohol. But he now wears shoes to bed, just in case.

8. Hero the Fire Alarm

Wendy Rankin of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania has a dog named Hero. After Hero was injured in a traffic accident, Rankin had to make a choice of whether to put her down. The family decided to do what they could to save their dog, which gave Hero an opportunity to live up to her name a few months later. In February, Hero started barking at 3AM, which is very unusual for her. The family woke to find their home on fire! Everyone escaped, but the home was destroyed. The Rankin family credits their survival to Hero.

9. Angel the Cougar Fighter

Eleven-year-old Austin Forman of Boston Bar, British Columbia, was saved from a wild cougar by his golden retriever Angel. Austin noticed the dog acting differently on that day, sticking close to him as if she knew of some hidden danger -which was only apparent to humans after the attack. He was gathering firewood in his family's backyard when a cougar charged. Angel leapt into action, fighting the cougar while Austin ran into the house. Austin's mother Sherri Forman called 911 as the battle between cat and dog raged under the backyard deck. A constable in the neighborhood responded quickly and killed the cougar. Angel suffered some deep bites and scratches and was taken to the Sardis Animal Hospital. As she recovered, Austin bought her a big steak for her bravery.

10. Yogi the Valor Dog of the Year

The Humane Society of the United States named Yogi, a golden retriever, the 2011 Valor Dog of the Year for saving his owner's life after a bicycle accident. Paul Horton of Austin, Texas, went over the handlebars on his mountain bike and landed on his head. When he regained consciousness, Yogi was by his side. Horton whispered for Yogi to get help. The dog, reluctant to leave, finally went to the main road and barked at neighbors who were walking by. Bruce and Maggie Tate know Yogi and had never seen him act so frantic, so they followed him back to the place where Horton lay immobile. Doctors found that Horton's vertebrae had pinched his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. They credit Yogi with saving Horton's life. Horton has since regained some sensation, and has limited use of his arms. And Yogi is still his best friend.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.


As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.


Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.


A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.


Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.


The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.


The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 


All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters


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