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Some of the Most Surprising Heroic Animals You'll Ever Meet

Heroic Pet Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • It’s not at all unusual to hear about dogs turned heroes… yet the reality is that many types of animals have the potential to be heroic
  • This list of the 23 most heroic animals includes not only dogs and cats, but also lions, dolphins, bears, pigeons, horses, and even a pot-bellied pig
  • Tales of heroism range from the rescue dogs of 9/11 to a llama that brings comfort to hospice patients
  • Animal heroes of decades’ past are also featured, including carrier pigeons, a combat dog that served during World War I, and a horse that served during the Korean War

By Dr. Becker

Earlier this year, a video of Tara, a heroic housecat, coming to the rescue of a little boy being attacked by a neighbor’s dog went viral. The video attracted so much attention in part because it’s quite fascinating to see pets proving their bonds with their owners in heroic ways.

In the case of Tara, it was even more compelling because she is a cat, and her behavior was very “un-catlike” (at least, stereotypically speaking). It’s not at all unusual to hear about dogs as heroes… yet the reality is that many types of animals have the potential to show heroic behaviors.

In Tanzania, for instance, rats are trained to sniff out landmines. And on BuzzFeed’s list of the 23 most heroic animals,1 you’ll be surprised to see not only the usual dogs and cats, but also lions, dolphins, bears, pigeons, horses, and even a pot-bellied pig!

The 23 Most Heroic Animals

  1. Lions Save an Abducted Girl
  2. A 12-year-old Ethiopian girl was abducted in 2005 by men attempting to force her into marriage. She was found a week later protected by three lions who “stood guard until we [police] found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest.”

  3. Dolphin Saves Whales
  4. Moko, a dolphin known for being friendly to humans, saw two pygmy sperm whales swimming toward the shore, where they would have become beached. Moko swam to the whales and convinced them to follow her back out to sea.

  5. Therapy Dogs in Newton, CT
  6. More than 70 dogs from Therapy Dogs International (TDI) have been helping children and parents cope with the 2012 school shooting tragedy. TDI’s director of the Newton chapter explained:

    It’s not just the children who benefit from this… it’s the parents as well… When children interact with the dog, it’s almost as if there’s a transaction of energy. The dogs offer kindness and love. If it’s a bad day, the dogs can really help them just be kids.”

  7. Cat Saves Her Kittens from Fire
  8. Scarlette was a feral cat when the garage she and her five kittens lived in was set on fire. The New York Fire Department found Scarlette pulling her kittens out one by one. She was temporarily blinded by the fire, so she touched her nose to each kitten to make sure they were alive. Scarlette and her kittens all found homes and “The Scarlette Award” is now presented to other heroic humans and animals.

  9. Lily the Tornado Rescue Dog
  10. After the Joplin tornado, Lily worked tirelessly to rescue people trapped under rubble. She kept going without complaint even when she stepped on nails and cut her legs on debris.

  11. The 9/11 Rescue Dogs
  12. Many rescue dogs worked tirelessly to find people lost in the rubble after 9/11. Many of the dogs suffered post-traumatic stress and needed therapy after the work, right along with their humans. The dog who found the last remaining survivor in the World Trade Center, Trackr, was cloned in 2009.

  13. All Rescue Dogs
  14. Rescue dogs all over the world risk their lives to save humans after earthquakes and countless other tragedies.

  15. The Cat Who Detected Breast Cancer
  16. One woman’s 10-month-old cat jumped on her breast continuously for weeks, prompting the woman to go to the doctor. She had a malignant tumor that may have spread if not treated.

  17. Pot-Bellied Pig Saves Its Owner
  18. LuLu, a pot-bellied pig, broke through her yard’s gate after her owner had a heart attack. She ran out into the road and lay down to try to get cars to stop. A motorcyclist finally stopped and followed LuLu back to her owner, and then called 911.

  19. Combat Dog Promoted to Sergeant
  20. Stubby was a stray dog that wandered into the 102nd Infantry Yankee Division training area during World War I. He boosted morale, learned drills, and even knew how to salute. Stubby served on the front line in 17 battles, helping to locate wounded soldiers, warned about gas strikes, and even attacked an enemy soldier. Stubby was promoted to Sergeant and became a lifetime member of the American Legion.

  21. Beluga Whale Saves Diver
  22. A woman in a competition to hold her breath as long as possible under water, found her legs paralyzed and unable to move when she wanted to swim toward the surface. A beluga whale grabbed her leg and lifted her to the surface, saving her life.

  23. Dog Saves Infant from Abusive Babysitter
  24. Killian was normally a friendly dog, but he became volatile around the family’s babysitter, who watched their 7-month-old child. This made the parents suspicious, so they recorded what happened while they were gone. Sure enough, the babysitter was verbally and physically abusing the child.

  25. Carrier Pigeon During World War I
  26. Cher Ami was a carrier pigeon during World War I who delivered messages for the US Army over enemy lines. Cher Ami was shot, but he still delivered the message that helped 194 soldiers be rescued in Major Charles Whittlesey’s “Lost Battalion.”

  27. Bear Saves Hiker
  28. A hiker in California was attacked by a mountain lion. Three nearby bears came to his aid, fighting off the mountain lion and saving the man’s life.

  29. Pit Bull Takes Bullet for Owner
  30. An armed robber pointed a firearm at a man during a home invasion. Lefty, the family’s pit bull, leapt in front of her owner, taking the bullet instead. Though her shoulder was shattered and her leg had to be amputated, she survived.

  31. Poacher-Hunting Dogs
  32. In eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, bloodhounds are used to track and arrest poachers.

  33. Therapy Llamas for Hospice Patients
  34. Dogs aren’t the only therapy animals to visit hospice patients. Pisco, a llama, visits a hospice monthly to bring calm and happiness to the patients.

  35. Golden Retriever Uses Heimlich Maneuver to Save Owner
  36. Toby, a Golden Retriever, became alarmed when his owner began choking on an apple. He pushed her to the ground and began jumping up and down on her chest, which dislodged the apple and allowed her to begin breathing again.

  37. Dolphins Save Surfer from Shark
  38. After being bitten three times by a great white shark, surfer Todd Endris was hopeless. Then a pod of bottlenose dolphins formed a protective circle around him, allowing him to get to shore. Although he required intensive physical therapy, the dolphins saved his life.

  39. Shih Tzu Saves Owner from Tsunami
  40. On the day of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Babu the Shih Tzu pulled his owner up a hill, in the opposite direction of their normal walk. The tsunami raced in below, destroying their home and the town.

  41. Sergeant Reckless, the Korean War Horse

    Reckless, a horse that served in the Korean War, was trained to go to and from ammunition delivery sites. She is said to have made 51 solo trips under enemy fire and also helped to evacuate wounded soldiers. She received two Purple Hearts and was named one of America’s 100 all-time heroes by Life magazine.

  42. Parrot Saves Choking Child

    A woman was babysitting a 2-year-old child who started choking while the woman was in the bathroom. The family’s parrot began squawking and saying “mama baby” repeatedly, alerting the babysitter to the trouble. She was then able to save her.

  43. Dog Saves Children from Being Hit by a Motorcycle
  44. The dog Kabang pushed her owner’s daughter and niece out of the way of a motorcycle. The girls were saved and Kabang suffered extensive injuries. She required surgery but survived, thanks to donations from people around the world who were moved by her story.

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