4 Incredible Times When Dogs Saved Their Owners and Became Heroes

Saving lives, comforting strangers, battling bears: Do dogs have instincts to help human beings? These four pets do.


These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scientist who doesn’t acknowledge that most animals have the ability to feel emotion in some way. In the past decade, a tremendous amount of research has focused on how animals think and feel and the possibility that they possess reason and morals. We may never know what motivates animals when they go out of their way to save people, as they do in these stories, but in these moments, it’s hard not to see striking evidence of empathy, love, and perhaps a basic understanding of life.

Roselle’s Finest Hour
Breed: Labrador retriever
Where: New York City

On the morning of September 11, 2001, computer sales manager Michael Hingson, who is blind, went early to his office on the 78th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center to prepare for a meeting. As Michael worked, his guide dog, a Labrador retriever named Roselle, dozed by his feet.

At 8:46 a.m., a tremendous boom rocked the building, eliciting screams throughout the floor. Michael grabbed Roselle’s harness, trusting that the dog would lead him out of danger, and they navigated their way to a stairwell.

“Forward,” Michael instructed, and they descended the first of 1,463 steps to the lobby. After about ten floors, the stairwell grew crowded and hot, and the fumes from jet fuel had made it hard to breathe.

When a woman became hysterical, yelling that they wouldn’t make it, Roselle nudged the woman until she finally petted the dog, calmed herself, and kept walking down the stairs.

Around the 30th floor, firefighters started passing Michael on their way up. Each one stopped to offer him assistance. He declined but let Roselle be petted, providing many of the firefighters with what would be their last experience of unconditional love.

After about 45 minutes, Michael and Roselle reached the lobby, and 15 minutes later, they emerged outside to a scene of chaos. Suddenly the police yelled for everyone to run as the South Tower began to collapse.

Michael kept a tight grip on Roselle’s harness, using voice and hand commands, as they ran to a street opposite the crumbling tower. The street bounced like a trampoline, the sky rained debris, and “a deafening roar” like a hellish freight train filled the air. Hours later, Michael and Roselle made it home safely.

In the months that followed, Michael became a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, the organization that had trained Roselle. Together, they spread their message about trust and teamwork.

In 2004, Roselle developed a blood disorder, and she retired from guiding and touring three years later. She died in 2011.

“I’ve had many other dogs,” Michael wrote, “but there is only one Roselle.”

Little Joe Versus the Black Bear
Breed: Yorkshire terrier
Where: Ringwood, New Jersey

Deborah Epstein’s Yorkie, Joe, proved that guard dogs sometimes come in small packages. On a warm July day in 2013, Joe and his owner were lounging on Deborah’s front porch when the phone rang. Deborah stepped inside to answer it, leaving the front door open. Seconds later, Joe began barking excitedly. That’s not unusual for a terrier, especially this little shelter dog, but he “sounded a little more furious than usual,” Deborah said.

She turned around to see a 100-pound black bear making its way toward Joe’s food bowl in the living room. Big mistake. “You don’t touch [Joe’s food],” said Deborah. She watched in awe as the six-pound dog growled, barked, lunged, and nipped at the bear until it retreated. “Joe chased it right back out the door,” Deborah said. The bear escaped into the woods behind Deborah’s house.

The prospect of losing his food may have propelled Joe into action, but he managed to defend his territory and protect his owner at the same time.

“I saved him from the pound, and he saved me from a bear,” Deborah said. “We’re even.”

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