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When Pets Become Heroes

January 11, 2011 | 7,817 views
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Pet Dog Companion

The stories of Digger, the hound mix; Peaches, the boxer/shepherd mix; and Inky the cat are truly amazing.

These three pets, all rescued from shelters, returned the favor by saving the lives of their owners, or in Digger's case, a neighbor.

Stories about the heroic acts of adopted pets are far from unique. All you have to do is Google the phrase 'dog saves owner' or 'cat saves owner' to see just how many pets have come to the rescue of human family members.

According to USAToday.com:

When USA TODAY Pet Talk columnist Sharon L. Peters asked Pet Smart Charities to contact the hundreds of rescue groups on its e-mail list and send her examples of animals that, once adopted, turned into family or neighborhood heroes, more than 200 responded.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

There are few things that touch the heart of an animal lover as deeply as learning about an adopted pet that took deliberate action to save the life of a human in harm's way.

These stories are especially moving because many dogs and cats rescued from animal shelters have been abused or neglected by people they depended on.

What makes these animals so special?

The question of how family pets sense and react to danger is an interesting one.

Your Pet is an Exquisitely Sensitive Creature

Scientists don't have definitive answers for the precise mechanism that causes some pets to sense impending danger and warn humans through their behavior.

It is assumed the highly refined sense of hearing and smell pets possess plays a significant role, as does their ability to detect subtle vibrations in the earth, and changes in the air or in electromagnetic fields.

Animals respond to a wide variety of stimuli, and not all of them are known.

According to ABCNews.com:

“It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that dogs, with their extraordinary sensory abilities, might be able to sense various impending events more quickly and more accurately than humans who are, by comparison, relatively insensitive.”

Dogs are designed by nature to have a sense of smell that is literally beyond human comprehension. They are gifted with hearing in the ultrasound range, as well. Your canine buddy is also keenly aware of your body language.

Dogs can be trained to detect a diabetic owner's drop in blood sugar or an impending seizure in a person with epilepsy.

Oscar the Hospice Cat

Oscar, a rescued cat living at a nursing and rehab center in Providence, R.I. has received wide acclaim for his ability to know when patients in the advanced dementia unit are near death.

Oscar jumps onto the beds of dying patients, curls up near them and purrs.

Dr. David Dosa, who works with patients at the facility, tells how Oscar arrived at the room of a dying woman and sat close to her, purring, as her family arrived and she was given last rites by a priest. Minutes after she took her last breath, Oscar quietly jumped from the bed and left the room.

No one knows for certain how Oscar senses the impending death of patients or why he stays with them until they pass on. But some part of the behavior seems driven by compassion. One of the first times Oscar demonstrated his remarkable sensitivity, it involved a patient whose leg was ice cold from a blood clot. Oscar wrapped himself around her leg, and stayed until the woman died.

Does My Pet Feel the Same Emotions I Do?

Most pet owners and caretakers would answer unequivocally yes: our companion animals demonstrate a wide range of emotions, from joy to fear to sadness.

There is also scientific data to prove the point.

According to Howstuffworks.com, a Discovery company:

Not only do some animals have highly refined senses, but many experience sophisticated emotions as well. Frans B.M. de Waal, a noted primatologist at Emory University, says that a variety of animals -- not just cats or dogs, but even rats -- feel empathy and other emotions.

In one study, scientists injected mice with a chemical that gave them slight stomach aches. The natural behavioral response is stretching, and injected mice stretched more when placed next to injected mice than they did when placed next to non-injected mice. Male mice also showed less of a response around males that they didn't know.

In other words, not only do mice show a response to the pain of others, but it matters who the other mouse is. University of Chicago neurobiologist Peggy Mason called this "a significant step toward human-like social feeling."

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a world-renowned expert in animal behavior is convinced many animals, and dogs in particular, experience a wide range of emotions.

According to Bekoff, there are many emotional and ethical behaviors dogs perform that are easily recognizable:

  • Dogs have a sense of fair play. They dislike cheaters. They experience joy in play. They delight in friends. The big guys handicap themselves in games with little guys.
  • Dogs get jealous when a rival gets more or better treats or treatment. They are resentful, unnerved or saddened by unfair behavior. They are made anxious by suspense. They get afraid.
  • They are embarrassed when they mess up or trip up. They feel remorse or regret when they do something wrong. They seek justice. They remember the bad things done to them, but sometimes choose to forgive.
  • Dogs have affection and compassion for their animal and human friends and family. They defend loved ones. They grieve their loss.

Become a Hero to a Homeless Pet

If you're planning a furry addition to your family in the new year, I hope you'll visit your local shelter or rescue organization to find a deserving pet looking for a second chance.

You can also go to Petfinder.com to see pictures of local adoptable animals waiting patiently for forever homes.

Who knows? You could end up the proud guardian of the next Digger, Peaches, or Inky!

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