My family has always been dog people -- growing up we had a boxer, a few cocker spaniels and even a chihuahua. At one point, Phil and I had three golden retrievers named Huey, Dewey and Louie. I have always been touched by how compassionate my pets were. It's as if dogs and humans have an intuitive understanding of each other and that's why the bond between pet and owner can be so strong.
Dogs are such special creatures, which is why it is so sad to think about how many homeless pets are sitting in shelters, just waiting for the right person to take them home. October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and I'd like to encourage anyone who may be considering getting a pet to visit a nearby shelter to see all the beautiful faces just waiting to be taken home. Given all the terrible stories out there about the deplorable conditions of puppy mills, I think it's more important than ever to look at the option of adopting a shelter dog.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions that shelter dogs are all deeply damaged or unmanageable, but the truth is that most adopted dogs make wonderful companions for their new owners. In fact, we found so many inspiring stories of adopted shelter dogs that have done amazing things -- from saving lives to detecting cancer -- that we decided to put together a collection of stories. These tales really warmed my heart, and I hope you'll be touched by them too. Take a look and see if they don't open up a little space in your heart that might be filled at the shelter.
Find a shelter near you at theshelterpetproject.org
Lisa Hulber often fosters pets and helps finds homes for them, but she and her husband held on to Effie, a hound mix who was difficult to place. She credits the dog with finding cancerous tumors in her breasts two separate times that mammograms failed to detect. Effie’s persistent sniffing alerted Hulber that something wasn’t right, and her nose pinpointed the exact location of the cancer. A biopsy confirmed that Hulber and Effie’s suspicions were correct. Hulber underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation. Hulber believes that without Effie, her cancer may have spread and she wouldn’t have such a promising prognosis today. <a href="http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/region/st_clair_county/rescue-dogs-nose-helps-save-owners-life-by-identifying-her-breast-cancer#ixzz1oIB03mQf">See the full story here</a>
Henry was on the “kill list” at an animal shelter when Yasmine and her six-year-old son Leo rescued him. Leo suffers from multiple brain aneurysms, and his mother found that the only thing that cheered him up in the hospital were the service dogs that came in to visit. Henry not only became Leo’s best friend, he is also able to detect when Leo will suffer from a seizure or a stroke. Yasmine discovered this by coincidence, as Henry would fetch her whenever something was going on with Leo, and lay by the child’s side when he was experiencing health issues. Yasmine refers to their small family as “the three musketeers”. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/09/rescue-dog-helps-6-year-o_n_1859687.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003">See the full story here</a>
Angel has been Emily Choi’s best friend since the day she brought her home from the Humane Society. One night when Emily was feeling sick, she got out of bed to use the bathroom and fell. Unable to pull herself back up, she lay on the floor in bad shape. Angel ran to the other side of the house and jumped onto Emily’s daughter’s bed. She kept bugging Emily’s daughter until she got up and checked on her mother. Alarmed at the sight of her mom on the floor, Emily’s daughter quickly called an ambulance. The responders stated that if Emily had remained on the floor, she could have fallen into a coma. The family was thankful that Emily’s little dog lived up to her name. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86vnGOjPtBI">See the full story here</a>
As a timid, malnourished dog who had been shot, Rocky lurked around the Lassen County Animal Shelter, evading capture for some time before being wrangled into the shelter. After going through a Pups On Parole program, where parolees work with shelter dogs to build their confidence, Rocky became much more social and caught the eye of a prison employee. Dawn and Floyd Tibbets took Rocky home, and he began accompanying Floyd on his frequent rock hunting trips in remote canyons. On one such trip, Floyd suffered from irregular heartbeats, which caused him to pass out repeatedly. Completely disoriented, Floyd tried to stumble back towards his car, but he couldn’t remember the way and his glasses were gone. Luckily, Rocky stayed by Floyd’s side, licking his face to wake him up and led him back to the car. Without Rocky, Floyd’s wife believes that her husband may never have left the canyon alive that day. <a href="http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2012/05/rescued-dog-returns-favor-saves-owners-life/">See the full story here</a>
Debbie Zeisler adopted Bear, a German Shepherd that nobody wanted, when she visited a shelter looking for a dog for her mother. Debbie had suffered from seizures for over 18 years, and without any training, Bear picked up on her condition almost immediately. He quickly learned to tell Debbie when to take her medications and alert her when she was about to have an attack by leaning on her legs. One day when Debbie ignored Bear’s warning, she suffered from a seizure, fell down the steps and was knocked unconscious. Bear went from door to door looking for help until he ran into an animal control officer. The officer saw Bear’s tag that stated he was a seizure alert dog and followed him back to his house where Debbie lay semi-conscious and disoriented. An ambulance was called and Debbie recovered from the incident. Bear was honored with the 30th Annual National Hero Dog Award from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) this year for his heroic act. <a href="http://www.dogheirs.com/tamara/posts/1138-former-shelter-dog-saves-life-of-owner-and-is-honored-with-as-national-hero-dog">See the full story here</a>
Soon after Thor was adopted into the Lewis family, he committed a heroic act of his own. An elderly neighbor fell on the side of the road when she was out checking her mail and although she called for help for over a half hour, no one heard her cries. That is, except for Thor. Thor noticed Barbara Simmons struggling on the ground went home and led his owners to the scene. They called the EMT, who admitted that Thor probably saved the woman’s life. In addition to helping Simmons, he also regularly defends the family’s chickens from foxes and other wild animals. <a href="http://www.wistv.com/story/15558547/dog-rescues-elderly-woman-who-fell">See the full story here</a>
Sara Russell was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 17, robbing her of her confidence and sense of independence. Two years later, she adopted Sheeba from a local shelter. A few months after Sheeba joined Sara’s family, the pair was on a walk when Sara had a fit and woke up on the side of the road. A passerby testified that Sheeba had dragged Sara to safety when an epileptic fit left her in the middle of the road, right in the path of an oncoming car. Since then, Sheeba has saved Sara’s life over 100 times, pulling her away from sharp corners or above the water in the bath when she experiences epileptic fits in dangerous places. Sara called the shelter where she adopted Sheeba to ask if her dog had been formally trained as a service dog, but the shelter had no record of it. It seems like Sheeba’s talent for protecting her owner is natural, making Sara one lucky girl. <a href="http://www.itv.com/news/west/2012-04-26/epileptic-woman-has-life-saved-by-dog-more-than-100-times/">See the full story here</a>
A 17-year-old animal shelter volunteer was taking a friendly pooch named Mabelline for a walk when she was violently attacked by a convicted sexual offender. The man grabbed the young girl by her hair and pinned her to the ground, but the 35-pound shelter dog wouldn’t stand for this. Mabelline barked at the girl’s attacker and went after him, until she was able to scare him off. The girl emerged from the incident unscathed, and Mabelline found her forever home soon after. <a href="http://www.wtsp.com/news/reporter/article/246489/79/Dog-saves-St-Pete-teenager-from-attack">See the full story here</a>
Pearl was just another black lab who had been abandoned at a shelter when she was discovered by volunteers from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Pearl trained as a search and rescue dog, and was paired with handler Ron Horetski of the LA County Fire Department. When the earthquake in Haiti struck, Pearl accompanied her handler to the scene of the disaster, searching for victims that were buried alive in the rubble. Pearl and her team rescued 12 people by digging through the rubble. Pearl was honored as the ASPCA Dog of the Year in 2010. <a href="http://www.aspca.org/Pressroom/press-releases/101110.aspx">See the full story here</a>
Pit bull Lilly was rescued from a shelter by a man who thought she would make a good service dog for his mother, who is an alcoholic and suffers from anxiety and depression. It turns out his decision to bring Lilly home saved his mother’s life. When Christine Spain fell unconscious onto train tracks, Lilly used her teeth to pull her owner out of harm’s way and sustained the impact of the train, which couldn’t stop fast enough to completely miss the pair. The train’s wheels sliced through Lilly’s right front leg, which was later amputated. Spain emerged unharmed from the incident. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/pit-bull-rescues-unconscious-owner-oncoming-train/story?id=16311409#.UGydmE3A-f4">See the full story here</a>
Although he had been looking for a smaller dog, Don Callahan just couldn’t say no when he met Wyatt, a 70-pound Airedale Irish wolfhound mix, at an adoption fair. As a diabetic with cardiac problems, he couldn’t have picked a better pal. Callahan’s blood sugar plummeted one dark winter night, and he collapsed onto the cold ground. Wyatt ran down the street and stood under a streetlight, trying to attract the attention of passersby. Two women spotted Wyatt and saw Callahan’s shape in the dark nearby. The police were swiftly phoned and Callahan was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated just in time. <a href="http://www.humanesociety.org/news/profile/2012/03/wyatt_earp.html">See the full story here</a>
John Green took Queen Sheba home from the Humane Society after discovering she had been passed over quite a few times. She quickly became part of the family, and solidified her place in the home when she saved her savior from a heart attack. Green began to experience heart attack symptoms alone in his room and couldn’t get the attention of his elderly father, who was in another part of the house. Queen Sheba licked the father’s face until he found Green in the midst of a heart attack and transported him to the hospital immediately. If Queen Sheba hadn’t been able to elicit the attention of Green’s father, Green may have died in the very next room without anyone knowing. <a href="http://www.fox59.com/news/wxin-john-green-dog-credited-with-saving-indianapolis-mans-life-20120109,0,3563735.column">See the full story here</a>
Single mom Heidi Parker saw something in Chilly the English bulldog/pit bull mix that she couldn't ignore when she visited her local animal shelter. She was nervous about Chilly getting along with her other dogs, but Chilly fit right in and soon became an integral part of the family. Four months later, after receiving routine allergy shots, Parker took a nap and awoke to find Chilly jumping on her and licking her face. Much to her surprise, Parker was experiencing anaphylactic shock. Parker’s throat was closing up, but she was able to contact 911 in time to be rushed to the hospital. Parker is forever thankful to her hero dog, who is a gentle giant that not only bonded with her daughter and other dogs, but also with the family’s chickens and goats. <a href="http://www.dogheirs.com/larne/posts/1957-adopted-pit-bull-heroically-saves-single-mom-s-life">See the full story here</a>
Saved from a city shelter, Wheeler has risen in the ranks of the New York State Police in Binghamton, New York. A rescue worker recommended Wheeler to the force after being impressed by his alertness and his protective nature. In his time on duty, Wheeler tracked down the body of a missing four-year-old boy that the police claim they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise find. He has also discovered countless drug stashes, five other missing bodies and a convicted rapist hiding in the woods. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/wheeler-police-dog-rescue-new-york_n_1313970.html">See the full story here</a>
It isn’t unusual for Bethe Bennett to have foster dogs in her home from the Arizona Schnauzer rescue at any given time. Bennett is largely invested in saving these little dogs, and when she slipped on a tiled floor breaking her femur, one of her dogs decided to show that he was thankful for her care. As Bennett lay unconscious on the floor, Danny licked her face to wake her up, knocked the phone from its receiver and nudged it toward her hand. When Bennett asked Danny to bring her paper, he brought her five slips, one which contained the phone number of a neighbor. Bennett was able to phone 911 and her neighbors, who allowed emergency personnel into the house with a spare key. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/service-dog-saves-life-arizona-bethe-benne_n_1248293.html">See the full story here</a>
Rescued from an animal hoarder living in deplorable conditions, Sparkles was taken in by volunteer firefighter Dayna Hilton and her family. Hilton soon realized that Sparkles was a quick learner, and could help her in her demonstrations to promote fire safety. Sparkles began traveling around to schools with her owner, teaching kids about what to do in a fire. A few months after visiting one Oklahoma school, Hilton received a call from the principal saying that there was a fire in the home of two students, and the girls remembered what Sparkles had taught them, which helped them escape the fire safely. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/rescued-dog-sparkles-teaches-children-fire-safety_n_743968.html">See the full story here</a>
Follow Marlo Thomas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarloThomas