It’s our job, as vets and veterinary nurses, to help animals – to be there in their time of need and do all we can to make them better. But, pets are such giving creatures this is rarely a one-way process. We all know that, if the need arose, our pets would have our back. Reciprocating the care we give to them, they’d always do what they could to help us. Admittedly, they couldn’t carry out a scan or an x-ray, run bloods or administer drugs – but they’re there with cuddles and companionship if we’re feeling blue, they cheer us up with their antics, they alert us to potential dangers or intruders at home (or, more likely, the postman), and they’ve even been known to detect illness. A simple purr from Kitty or a lick from Fido can quickly bring a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts (soppy, I know, but I make no apologies – it’s all true, and you know it!).
While we all value what our pets do for us, some animals – whether it’s through training or natural instincts – go above and beyond for humans, literally saving lives. These incredible acts of animal heroism and devotion are truly humbling and show the strength of the relationship between man and beast. I could pretend that when I’m not at work I do much more exciting things than watch animal videos on YouTube and read stories about animals on the internet … and I do, obviously. But in between the sky diving, mountain climbing and reading classic literature (ahem), I do sometimes find a spare minute or two to peruse some animal tales online (purely for the sake of research, you understand). Recently I read some incredible stories that I thought I’d share with you. (No tears were shed in the writing of this article. Honest*)
*Fingers firmly crossed behind my back
They have a reputation as being amongst the bravest but also one of the most dangerous species in the animal kingdom, although there are many stories out there of lions forming a bond with humans – usually people they’ve been involved with from young cubs. However, three lions in Ethiopia came to the rescue of a stranger – a young girl, aged 12, who’d been kidnapped by a group of men wanting to force her into marriage. The lions chased off the kidnappers and then stood guard over the girl for half a day until authorities arrived. It’s thought that the poor young girl’s whimpers sounded like a lion cub, and that’s why she was protected… or maybe they just had a very strong moral compass?
When you think of rescue animals, rabbits aren’t usually the first creatures that spring to mind – but a rabbit from Cambridgeshire was credited with saving her owner’s life when he slipped into a diabetic coma. Apparently, the house rabbit called Dora jumped up onto her owner’s chest and started thumping furiously. His wife, who thought he’d just fallen asleep, was alerted to the problem and called 999.
Parrot Squawks an Alert While parrots are known for, well, ‘parroting’ phrases, this remarkable bird from Colorado managed to shout an alert to its owner when the toddler she was babysitting began to choke. Willie the parrot squawked ‘Mama! Baby!’ and flapped his wings furiously when the little girl was choking on her breakfast. His owner had left the room but dashed back in in response to the parrot’s commotion, luckily in time to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre and save the child’s life. If it wasn’t for Willie raising the alarm, it could have been a very different story.
It’s not just humans who benefit from the life-saving heroism of animals – other creatures do, too. You may have heard of Bear, an Australian Koolie x Collie who’s become quite a star for rescuing koalas after the Australian bush fires of 2019-2020. Abandoned as a pet due to his obsessive, compulsive behaviour, Bear was trained as a rescue dog. Ironically, the traits that made him a problematic pet provided the perfect temperament for his new role. Following the devastating fires, Bear and his handler have rescued over 100 injured, starving or dehydrated koalas – but the resulting fame and media attention hasn’t gone to his head. He’s still as hard-working as ever and fully focussed on the job in hand (or ‘in paw’…).
There are 1000s of dogs all over the world who are trained to protect or rescue people – in search and rescue operations, in the military, as medical alert dogs, as assistance dogs … the list goes on. It’s no wonder they’re known as ‘man’s best friend’. From discovering people under avalanches to saving survivors in the rubble after earthquakes, the stories of dogs’ heroism are countless.
While I could happily read and write about stories of our four-legged friends’ courageous acts all day, I couldn’t possibly do justice to the endless tales of their immense efforts and selfless service. Notable, however, are the 100s of dogs involved in the search and rescue mission after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. A huge team of dogs and handlers were flown in from all over to assist in this operation and their service was indispensable. This operation was beyond the scale and scope of anything the dogs had been trained for yet they worked devotedly alongside their handlers. German Shepherd, Trakr, found the last survivor in the rubble – Genelle Guzman-McMillan had been trapped for 27 hours before the dog alerted firefighters to her whereabouts, enabling her rescue.
It’s not just dogs who are able to find people and direct others to rescue them, it seems. Our feline friends are capable of search and rescue, too. Recently, a cat named ‘Piran’ persistently meowed in the corner of a field where her 83-year-old owner had fallen more than 20 metres down a ravine near to her home address in Cornwall. The clever kitty’s cries alerted a neighbour to the missing pensioner’s whereabouts, enabling her subsequent rescue.
Another fearless feline saved a toddler from a dog attack in California – a story in which sadly animals play both the hero and the villain. This remarkable YouTube clip shows the brave rescue, which was captured on the family’s CCTV. The boy is happily playing on his bike when a passing dog grabs him. In a flash, the family’s brave and loyal kitty, Tara, flies in and chases away the dog before quickly returning to check on her best friend, four-year-old Jeremy.
I could go on indefinitely with these heart-warming, tear-jerking tales … but I’ve got dogs to walk and a small child who’s demanding my attention! If you have some time to kill and fancy warming the old cockles with some feel-good stories, I’d recommend having a quick Google – it’s a lovely way to pass a rainy afternoon and I’ve only just scratched the surface with these accounts of amazing animals. The PDSA run an on-going awards programme for animals’ dedication to duty, bravery, military service, and outstanding acts of devotion. Recipients of these awards over the years range from heroic horses to devoted hamsters, message-carrying pigeons to land-mine detecting rats.
These incredible tales of remarkable animals just serve to confirm to me that I’m in the right job and animals deserve the very best care. If we needed them, they’d be there in a flash so it’s only right that we provide the same unwavering support and affection.
SLVC accepts no responsibility for the many hours of time you may lose reading stories on the internet as a result of this article.