Allison's Book Bag

Pet Heroics!

Posted on: April 15, 2015

This past fall, I reviewed Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell. The anthology inspired me to write an article on the topic for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, an organization committed to improving the lives of animals. My article featuring local pet heroes is below.

Many years ago during a visit to my home province of Newfoundland, I heard the unusual report of a family being saved from a house fire by a hamster. I couldn’t tell you now where the rescue happened or even when it happened. All I can tell you is that through online searches, I found accounts of other small animals, such as a rat and a rabbit, alerting their families to a deadly blaze.


We have plenty of pet heroes right here in the Midwest. Kim shared with me her own story of a fire rescue. One night while Kim slept, her dog Gracie began to bark and bark. She didn’t stop until Kim woke up. At that point, Kim saw a bright light through her drapes. Pulling them back, she saw that a fire had engulfed the house next door. Kim immediately got Gracie out, put her in her car, and moved it away from the fire. Then she called 911 and returned to her house for a few belongings. Thanks to a very persistent dog and a quick-thinking owner, the two escaped the fire without any harm.


Pets save their owners in other ways too. For example, Janet refers to her cocker spaniel as her “service dog”. Three times, Paddy has woken Janet up when her blood sugar was low. Paddy would jump on Janet, and Janet would get out of bed on the assumption Paddy had to potty. But when she stood up, Janet could tell she needed help.


Another life-saving story comes from Carrie. She and her rescue Tortoiseshell cat, Bonnie, had been traveling one night. Carrie was taking medication for an abscess on her leg. The two went to bed but, in the middle of the night, Bonnie started to bite Carrie’s ear. When Carrie woke up she was covered in blood, but not from the bites. Her abscess had ruptured and nicked her femoral artery, putting Carrie in an emergency situation.

This ability of animals to save human lives is the topic of an anthology I recently read. Daisy to the Rescue, by Jeff Campbell, increased my interest in pet heroics for multiple reasons. For one thing, every story has been substantiated by multiple reports or an otherwise thorough investigation. In addition, the animals in it are diverse, as are the settings. Besides dogs and cats, there are a horse, rabbit, parrot, pig, and even wild animals. As for locations, while the majority of stories occur in North America, many happened in Europe or in Asia. Still other locations include Afghanistan, Australia, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. I was especially interested in Campbell’s analysis of each story to show how the real-life event and the scientific data on animal emotions and intelligence fit together.


While Daisy to the Rescue is all about animals rescuing people, often animals will come to the aid of each other. Jayne told me the story of how, a few months after her three “still mostly feral” cats moved in, one of them (Rum Tum) was attacked outside by a neighbor cat. Her dog Blue (who didn’t care for Rum Tum at all and had been harassing him in the house) dashed past him and chased the neighbor cat out of the yard. According to Jayne, it made a big difference in Rum Tum’s life because after that he decided to stay with the family.


Cindy’s childhood cat, Calico, saved the family’s toy poodle from the neighbor’s Coonhound, which was shaking their dog by the neck like a rug. Without any hesitation, Calico leaped onto the dog and wrapped herself around his face, sinking into his back and throat with her claws. As he tried to shake her off, Calico gave him a slash across the face that caused him to flee. Not only did Calico chase him to the edge of their property, but she chased him clear down the block. It’s the last time the neighbor’s Coonhound ever bothered “her” poodle.

Pet heroics come in many other forms. In the few months that I’ve been collecting stories, I seem to have zeroed in on tales of pets who traveled great distances to find their owners. One cat walked 190 miles back to its home after being lost during a vacation. A dog was reunited with owners after being separated when three tornadoes ripped through the town and demolished their house. Then there’s the dog who walked fifteen blocks to find his hospitalized owner. Similarly, a cat apparently walked across “cattle fields, rock quarries, forests, and busy highways” to find her 82-year-old owner in a hospital that the cat had never before visited. A quick online search will turn up many more of these stories.


Of course, not all of our pets save us from life-threatening emergencies or even return to us from great distances. Sometimes they save us in smaller ways. Nancy shared with me how Alex, as a kitten, used to carry and bring little things to her. Like paperclips. He’d find these on the floor, carry them in his mouth, and give them to her with a look that said, “this could be dangerous to one of us, you better put it away”. Truly, our pets save us every day by loving us and keeping us sane.

Do you have your own pet hero story? If so, please share in the comments.

8 Responses to "Pet Heroics!"

Thanks for adding the portrait. Lucy seems to have been a very special (and pretty) cat as well – I wish I had more photos of Sheena…

When I look back on photos from my youth, I feel sad about how few photos I have of the pets who grew up with me. They were also special to me.

Lucy came to me when I was an adult and more into photography. Even so, in compiling notes and photos of Lucy for a storybook, I still find many gaps in my records of her life with me.

In contrast, I could probably fill a safe with all my memorabilia associated with my new girl Cinder. 😉 She’s even the star of my research for rescue groups!

Thanks – I’ve emailed Sheena’s portrait as invited.


Sheena was a beautiful cat. 🙂 Her portrait is now posted.

Remarkable stories!

None of my pets have any hero stories to be told about them. However often they fit your concluding assertion, “Truly, our pets save us every day by loving us and keeping us sane.”

I also enjoyed H.S. Toshack’s response to”Pet Heroics!”

Thanks for your comment! I plan to bring Daisy to the Rescue, the inspiration for this post, with me this summer for you to read. 🙂

Hi Allison,

I believe you were somewhat taken by Sheena, the heroine of my ‘Paka Mdogo’ series (thanks again for those excellent reviews). In light of that and your most recent blog (‘Pet Heroics!’) I thought you might be interested to know that Sheena was (but sadly no longer is) a real cat, and that her fictional acts of cleverness and courage were presaged by an actual act of both. Here’s an account, written some time ago for an ‘LA Times’ blog.

Sheena Color Portrait

My Cat Saved Me…from being burgled and beaten.

I was living in the Caribbean, in an apartment that backed onto the seashore, with wonderful sunset views. Idyllic? Not altogether.

I was more social and more mobile in those days: I partied and I travelled.

So one night I came home from a party (late) and was flying to the UK next morning (early); and I hadn’t packed.

‘No problem. I’ll just lie down for a while, then get up refreshed and sort out my bags in no time.’

In no time, however, I was fast asleep, fully clothed, on my back on the bed with my feet hanging over the end (since I still had my shoes on).

Now I had a cat – not much more than a kitten really – that I had rescued, dirty and frightened and flea-covered, from under my car on New Year’s Eve (after another party). I’d named her Sheena and she was pretty and smart.

She woke me. She woke me by jumping up repeatedly and nipping the backs of my ankles with her sharp not-much-more-than-a-kitten teeth.

Then I heard the noise – the heavy thudding of a shoulder against the seawards-facing kitchen door. I hauled myself upright and conscious, and staggered through there. In the half-light I could see the door bulging inwards at the joints as if a horror movie’s dark forces were trying to break in.

The thudding stopped, and all went quiet. Whoever was outside had seen me through the door’s glass panel, and run – leaving behind a heavy club which no doubt they would have used if they had got inside and we’d come face to face.

That’s it. I owed Sheena, my extraordinary cat, a lot. I repaid her by taking her to Africa to live (where she became known as Paka Mdogo – ‘Little Cat’ in Kiswahili), and by commemorating her in the stories I’ve told about the adventures she might have had there…’Paka Mdogo’, ‘The Gradual Elephant’, ‘The Meerkat Wars’…and, in Thailand, ‘The Smile of the Tiger’, not yet published.

Cherish cats.

H.S. Toshack

Nice to hear from you! Thank you for sharing the background to the Paka Mdogo series, which are still among my most treasured animal stories. Also, I agree that you owe a lot to Sheena. 🙂

I can add images to comments. If you want to email a photo to ahunter_nfATyahooDOTcom, I can attach it to your comment. If you prefer not to do this, I’ll try to figure out how you could yourself add an image.

Sorry to hear that Sheena has passed. Although my dear Lucy cat never performed any life-saving heroics, she still rocked my world and changed my life. I miss her everyday and my work in rescue is in gratitude to her. You can read a little of her story here: In Memory of Lucy

Please let me know when The Smile of the Tiger is published. Yes, cats are to always be cherished.

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