Champ Clark, Sharon Cotliar, Simon Perry, and Johnny Dodd
April 07, 2014 12:00 PM

His Retriever Kept Him Alive

Otis Orth & Amber

Deep in the snow, unable to move, Otis Orth knew he might die there in the Alaskan night. “Don’t let me go to sleep, girl,” he told his golden retriever Amber. Hours earlier, on March 2, the fisherman and carpenter had struck out from his cabin for supplies, accompanied by his four-legged sidekick. When his snowmobile hit a deep rut, Orth, 52, went flying, dislocating both arms and injuring his neck. Amber, unharmed, stayed with him for 26 hours, lying on him as the temperature dropped to 8°F and he fought to stay conscious. “I could feel her body heat through my coat.” In daylight she chased after two snowmobilers and led them to Orth. “That dog saved your life,” said one. Still in the hospital, where he is being treated for frostbite and neck injuries, Orth agrees. “When I’m out,” he says, “I’m gonna get her a moose leg.”

Their Dogs Made a Love Match

Aaron Starr, Jennifer Hague & Abby and Remington

Aaron Starr’s dog, a vizsla named Abby, fell first. In August 2012, at a local dog park, Abby ran to Jennifer Hague, there with her schnauzer Remington, and began “pawing” her leg, says Starr, 29. “It was an instant liking.” With Abby as his excuse, he worked up the nerve to talk to Hague, 32, who let him believe his dog had a bond with her. In fact, she says, “I had pepperoni treats in my bag.” As the pups played, their humans found “an immediate connection,” says Hague, a pet photographer. A year later, back in the park with their pets, Starr, a building manager, proposed with an engraved dog tag. They will wed in October.

A Vet Heals with His Best Friend’s Help

Adam Renteria & Rakkasan

Tours of duty in Kuwait and Iraq left Army Sgt. Adam Renteria, 32, with traumatic brain injury and PTSD and suffering what he calls “a disconnection from everything.” With therapy he “was doing better.” But hearing about the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting caused a relapse: “All the anxieties came back. I was filled with anger.” His mom, Gloria Gates, had an intriguing suggestion: a dog. She pointed him to Pets for Vets (pets-for-vets.com). Though Renteria requested “the biggest, meanest dog,” founder Clarissa Black offered Rakkasan, a 30-lb. white Korean Jindo from a local shelter. Renteria recalls saying, “‘I didn’t ask for cute!’ But the first night, he slept in my bed. I put my hand on him and fell asleep for eight hours straight—for the first time in years.” Just having Rakkasan around, “our souls connected. It was unlike anything I’d felt. That’s the key word: felt. It was, ‘Wow, I have feelings for this animal. I have feelings!'” says Renteria, now studying for a master’s degree in military social work. “I knew I was changing, healing. Rakkasan is the one who brought that out.”

Feeding a Cat Helped Her Beat Anorexia

Ashley Ransley & Riley

Ashley Ransley had given up on recovery. After battling anorexia in high school and college, she was still struggling after leaving a treatment center in spring 2008. “I thought,” she says, “‘This is never going to change.'” Her family, too, was losing hope. “She was dying again,” says her mom, Nancy Day, 66. “There was nothing we could do to reach her.” But one night, as the family gathered at a bonfire in the woods behind their Fenton, Mich., home, a stray kitten appeared. Ransley fed it a piece of hot dog. The cat, whom she named Riley, stuck around, and when Ransley brought it to a veterinarian, she learned her new pet was not a kitten but a malnourished adult cat. “I didn’t see the irony at the time. I just thought, ‘It’s my job to help her get better. That’s why I’m here.'” Caring for Riley helped motivate Ransley to care for herself. Today she’s a recovering anorexic working as a therapist for those with eating disorders. Says her grateful mom: “Riley saved her life.”

A Big Dog Gave a Little Boy Confidence

Owen Howkins & Haatchi

Growing up as one of a very few people in the world with Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, which keeps his muscles constantly clenched, going out in public was hard for Owen Howkins, 8. People stared, and Owen would “duck his head down,” says dad Will, 35, of Basingstoke, England. Then, in 2012, stepmom Colleen, 42, brought home a rescue puppy, a massive Anatolian shepherd, who had been cruelly dumped on a rail line, where a train hit his back left leg, which was amputated. The giant dog stepped carefully into Owen’s bedroom and curled around him gently. “It was like two lost souls meeting,” says Will, an ex-aircraftsman in Britain’s Royal Air Force. “It was absolutely electric,” adds Owen.

Soon, on outings, as the dog, named Haatchi, tottered on three legs, people asked about him—and Owen was able for the first time to look strangers in the eye, to talk about his brave dog. “He saw how Haatchi was coping with his disability and getting on with life,” says Colleen. The family share more in a new book, Haatchi & Little B (Owen’s nickname). “Before Haatchi,” says Colleen, “Owen was a little bud who hadn’t bloomed.”

GONE VIRAL!

Their Pets Became Stars

When your cat or dog becomes an Internet star, riches can follow. Fame, too—just not for you

More Than 8 MILLION Views!

HENRI, LE CHAT NOIR

They’ve been called cat videos for people who hate cat videos. For Seattle filmmaker Will Braden, “Henri, Le Chat Noir” is the viral Internet sensation that let him quit his prior job as a wedding videographer. Henry (Henri’s offscreen name) is a 10-year-old family cat of no particular talents. He spends his days lounging, sleeping and wandering from room to room. But by filming Henry in black and white and adding some plaintive piano, French voice-overs and sub-titles of the cat’s supposed world-weary thoughts (“I’ve always felt art was futile. Like hope … or scratching posts”), he had a hit. Millions of YouTube views followed. Now Henri is a full-time business, with a book in its fourth printing, merchandising (mugs, T-shirts and posters) and YouTube ads that pay Braden, he says, “not enough to buy a Rolls Royce, but enough to make a decent living.” Already, Braden and his professionally bored cat have won lifetime-achievement honors from a pet food company and the Golden Kitty Award from the Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, where Braden now conducts seminars on making pet videos (see sidebar). But Braden doesn’t see himself retiring as a feline auteur. “There are things I’d like to do that have nothing to do with cats. For now, I’m that crazy cat lady, trapped in a 34-year-old man’s body.”

MAX, THE SHARK CAT

Helen Jurlau Arnold had been shopping for a shark outfit for her pit bull Sharky, but the one she found was too small. So she bought it for her cat Max-Arthur (right), a mellow 13-year-old kitty who enjoyed riding the family’s robotic vacuum cleaner. You do the math. Cat + Shark Suit + Roomba = millions of YouTube views, TV bookings and tributes in Legos and Halloween costumes. Internet fame has had a surprising upside. “I love people’s comments,” says Arnold, 34, a Houston property manager. “When my brother passed away, I didn’t upload videos for a long time. Then I read all these comments: ‘I want to see more!’ When you’re feeling bad, they’re like friends.”

BOO, THE POMERANIAN

“Every dog is the world’s cutest dog to their owner,” says the anonymous owner of Boo, who actually is the world’s cutest dog, according to the 11 million fans of his Facebook page. Reportedly from the San Francisco area, the Pomeranian, 8, has long been the star of aww-inspiring photos, books and calendars and the model for a Gund stuffed toy. But he also represents a new phenomenon: the Viral Pet Philanthropist. Through donations from fans, he’s raised tens of thousands of dollars for poverty and children’s causes, from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to Charity: Water. “It’s a huge privilege,” says his owner (who is thought to be a Facebook exec), “to use Boo’s popularity to give back and make a positive impact.”

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