From a dog who rescued a drowning boy to a parrot who foiled a robbery, these save-the-day animals are more than just cuddly companions

By Jennifer Wulff
September 04, 2006 12:00 PM



It was 8-year-old Ryan Rambo’s first white-water trip, and it was not going well. He and family friend Kevin Doran, 47, were in an inflatable kayak, hurtling down Colorado’s appropriately named Roaring Fork River. But soon a log steered the boat off-course, driving it into a boulder. Both were thrown overboard into the 53-degree water. Doran’s foot became caught in a rock crevice, and he could only watch as Ryan floated rapidly downstream. “I was scared I was going to die,” says Ryan. “Some parts of the water were so cold, I could barely breathe.”

Meanwhile, about a mile downstream, 13-year-old Chelsea Bennett was playing fetch in the river with her sister Brooke’s yellow Labrador Zion. She threw the stick, and Zion brought it back. Except one time he didn’t. When Ryan went drifting by, Zion ignored the lumber and swam toward the frightened kid. When Zion got close, Ryan grabbed his collar, and the dog turned around and hauled the stranger back to shore. On the beach Chelsea covered Ryan in warm sand to heat him up before his mother, Deana, a bank teller, later arrived to wrap him in her arms. “He was strong until he saw me, then he just started crying,” says Deana, 30, who was soon joined by a very relieved Doran. “I don’t think Ryan realized the danger he was in,” he says.

Zion, who scored some major treats after his spontaneous rescue, was also given the American Humane Association’s Golden Paw Award. “He’s not really a well-trained dog,” says Robin, Chelsea’s mom. “But he was smart enough to know ‘I’ve got to get this kid to land.'”



Michael L. Deeter didn’t know what he was in for when he broke into J.W. Erb’s Williamsport, Pa., apartment in January. Sure, he got away with a camcorder and $100, but he also sustained some nasty bites, thanks to Sunshine, Erb’s blue-and-gold hybrid macaw. “The police said he looked like somebody rolled him in barbed wire,” Erb says. Which is why they were able to catch him so quickly. Turns out Deeter was being held on an unrelated charge the same day and was already in jail when Erb called 911. Confronted with pictures of Sunshine, Deeter confessed. Sadly, Sunshine didn’t escape the scuffle unscathed. When Erb, 45, first walked into his home after the robbery, he found his 6-year-old bird, which he had bought for $1,000 as a gift for himself for his 40th birthday, “curled up in a laundry basket on top of my dog’s cage,” says the single hairdresser. “My heart sank. He was missing a lot of feathers, and there was blood all over the apartment.” With 11 of his tail feathers yanked out, the parrot was severely traumatized by the attack. “He didn’t talk for three weeks and went through a spell where he wouldn’t want me to leave,” says Erb. Now fully recovered, Sunshine is acting like his bright self again, singing Cher songs and dancing in the shower as he used to. “We’ve picked up the pieces and moved on,” says Erb. “My world revolves around him.”



Seven-year-old Jordan Jones was playing in his front yard when he noticed an angry pit bull charging right at him. Luckily Jordan had a bodyguard: his 150-lb. potbellied pig Daisy. The pig rushed into the pit bull’s path, and the dog—a neighbor’s pet that had escaped its enclosure—clamped onto her head. “There was so much blood spraying,” says Jordan’s mom, Kim Jones, 45, who heard the squeals and ran outside. “It killed me to see Daisy hurt, but if not for her it’s possible my son wouldn’t be here today.” Jones screamed for her husband, who brought out his handgun. After asking permission from their neighbor, who had also raced outside, he pulled the trigger, killing the dog instantly.

Daisy was left with a severed ear and bites to her face and jowls. A vet was called, but, lacking a special anesthetic needed for pigs, he had to improvise. He gave Daisy two cans of beer to numb the pain while he tended to her wounds.

Daisy was back to her hammy self a few weeks after the October 2004 attack, but the next year the Jones family relocated to Pennsylvania from Las Vegas and had to put Daisy up for adoption. She now lives with pig-rescue activist Kimberly Moneymaker in Sacramento. “She’s not just a hero,” says Moneymaker. “She’s the sweetest, most wonderful girl.”



His neighbors tried to get him to leave, but lifelong Biloxi, Miss., resident George Mitchell, a widower, was insistent on riding out the storm. Yes, that storm. “I said, ‘Nope, [hurricane] Camille was as bad as it gets,'” says Mitchell, who turned 80 the day Katrina hit. Stubbornly, he took his schnauzer-poodle mix Frisky (a senior citizen himself at age 18) to an evacuated neighbor’s home and waited. Soon Mitchell was chest-deep in water. He put Frisky on an inflatable mattress and hung on to keep himself afloat. “It was like being in a washing machine,” says the retired Navy man turned real estate agent of the storm. After treading water for hours, he began to fade. “I was ready to let go,” says Mitchell, who was on the verge of passing out. Not if Frisky had anything to do with it. The dog, which Mitchell found on his porch in 1987 as a stray puppy, went to the corner of the mattress and began frantically licking his master’s face. “He would not stop licking until I snapped out of it,” says Mitchell. Realizing his best friend’s own life would be in danger if he died, Mitchell fought to stay alive. Finally, at daybreak, the water began to recede, and Mitchell could once again stand. He spent the next 12 days at a nearby hospital being treated for dehydration and cuts. Frisky was right by his side. “He slept on me the whole damn time,” says Mitchell, who now lives in a Biloxi retirement community with his pup. “He’s quite a boy. I wouldn’t give him up for a million bucks.”



Ed and Darcy Murphy bought a rabbit—a gift for their kids Callie, 10, and Dylan, 8—at a garage sale and didn’t think much more about it. Ten days later Robin—as the bunny had been named—started bouncing around frantically in her cage at 3 a.m., waking Ed. “She was going wild,” says Ed, 31, who loads trucks at a chemical plant near their Port Byron, Ill., home. “It wasn’t like her at all.” While up, he noticed that Darcy, 31, who had gestational diabetes, was making “raspy, snoring” noises, but he thought nothing of it and tried to get back to sleep. But Robin wouldn’t stop her ruckus. That’s when Ed checked again and noticed that Darcy was bright red and barely breathing. He called 911; the paramedics who arrived said Darcy had gone into insulin shock. “If Robin hadn’t made all that noise, the baby and I would have died,” says Darcy, who gave birth to a healthy girl named Brenna a month later. Is there an explanation for Robin’s antics? “With diabetes, it’s likely Darcy was giving out significant ketone odors that the rabbit was reacting to,” says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, an animal behaviorist at Texas A&M University. Or, as Ed puts it, “she knew something I didn’t know.” Whatever the theory, says Darcy, “Robin was the reason that everything worked out the way it did.”



When Officer Patrick Daugherty—prompted by a 911 call—walked into Gary Rosheisen’s Columbus, Ohio, home last December, he thought nothing of the orange tabby sitting next to a phone in the living room. Then he realized that the cat’s disabled owner had collapsed on his bedroom floor—with no phone within reach. Could the cat have made the call? Was that why the 911 dispatcher heard nothing on the line? “We were both scratching our heads,” says Rosheisen, 50, who suffers from connective tissue disorder and fell while getting out of his motorized wheelchair. Of course, it’s possible the cat just got lucky batting the speed dial and the speakerphone. But Rosheisen notes that, after adopting Tommy in 2002, he tried to teach the cat to call 911 with his paws. He stopped when he began worrying that Tommy might make unnecessary calls in hope of getting a treat. Still, somehow a 911 call was made. “All I can say is, it was a miracle,” says Rosheisen.



After his golden retriever Camden died in his arms of a heart attack in 2005, Steve Werner, 40, took great comfort in the following weeks cuddling up with Camden’s sister Wrigley. “I was destroyed and she was too,” says the Brentwood, Mo., real estate developer, who got both dogs as puppies 11 years ago. Then Werner noticed that Wrigley kept sniffing at his right ear in a persistent “‘Hey, what’s in there?’ kind of way,” he says. “She’d never done anything like that before.” Having just seen a segment on 60 Minutes about dogs being able to detect cancer in humans, Werner became concerned and went to the doctor for tests. Sure enough, an MRI showed a tumor the size of a Ping-Pong ball near his inner ear. The growth, which was removed during a four-hour surgery in February, was benign, but his doctors told Werner that in another year it could have caused a stroke or even death. Is it possible that nonmalignant tumors also can be detected by dogs? Werner’s surgeon Dr. Derald Brackmann, of the House Ear Clinic, says, “Call it luck or call it science we don’t understand, Wrigley did bring Steve to treatment, and that was certainly fortuitous.” Adds Werner: “I’m blessed to have her as part of my life.”



After a night of go-karting in July, James and Ellen Stout tucked their daughter Jeannie, 10, into bed at the Stony Creek, N.Y., home of James’s parents, where they were visiting. At 2 a.m. James, 45, was awakened by the sound of their Irish terrier Curley barking in the hallway. “I was afraid he was going to wake everyone in the house up,” he says. James tried to calm him down, but Curley walked to the bathroom door and began barking even more. Thinking a chipmunk or a mouse had snuck in, Stout opened the door and saw a small blue foot sticking out from the shower curtain. He pulled the curtain back and was horrified to see his daughter “faceup, not breathing, and her eyes were rolled into the back of her head.”

James’s dad, James Sr., a retired New York firefighter, rushed to perform CPR, while Ellen dialed 911. “I just said to myself, ‘Please, God, don’t take this little girl,'” says James Sr. “After three or four minutes she started breathing on her own.” Taken to the hospital after being given oxygen by paramedics, Jeannie, who had suffered an asthma attack, was kept for observation for nine hours.

Nowadays, back home in East Northport, N.Y., the family spends a lot of time asking, “What would Curley want?” A nap on the once-forbidden sofa? No problem! A little prime rib with your dog chow? Coming right up! “I could never yell at him again,” says Ellen. “Curley knew something was wrong, and he wasn’t going to stop until we understood.” Says Jeannie: “I love him—he’s the best dog in the world.”