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.

Shana’s Frozen Dig
Breed: German shepherd–wolf mix
Where: Alden, New York

In 1999, Eve and Norman Fertig, founders of the Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary, saved a two-week-old half-wolf, half–German shepherd from a puppy mill. The pup they named Shana grew to an intimidating 160 pounds, but Eve said the dog trailed her like “a little lamb.”

One October several years back, as the Fertigs, both then 81, fed injured rescue animals housed in one of the buildings on their land, an unseasonable, violent snowstorm blew in. When the couple went outside to check the weather, several trees fell, trapping them in a narrow alley between two buildings. Eve and Norman weren’t wearing coats or gloves and couldn’t climb over or duck below the tree trunks. For the next two and a half hours, they huddled together for warmth as the snow piled higher.

“We were in big trouble,” Eve said. “I told Norman, ‘We can’t stay here. We’ll die.'”

Around 9:30 p.m., Shana, who was outside, began burrowing toward Eve and Norman in the deep snow. It took the dog nearly two hours, but eventually she cleared a narrow tunnel about 20 feet long stretching from the front porch of the main house to the Fertigs’ location.

When Shana finally broke through the snow and reached the curled-up couple, she gave one short bark. Her message was clear: Follow me.

Norman looked at the tunnel, which was a foot high, and refused, telling Eve he’d spent too much time in foxholes in Okinawa during World War II. But in her no-nonsense Bronx accent, Eve changed her husband’s mind: “Norman, if you do not follow me, I will get a divorce.”

Shana grabbed Eve’s jacket and guided the 86-pound woman onto her back. Norman clutched Eve’s ankles, and for the next two hours, Shana pulled the couple through the tunnel.

Shana finally reached the house around 2 a.m., and the Fertigs managed to get just inside the front door. They collapsed with fatigue. The storm had knocked out the electricity and heat, but Shana lay next to them all night. “She kept us alive,” Eve said.

Firefighters arrived later that morning and were astonished at the sight. Eve said, “They kept looking at that tunnel and saying, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it.'”

After the ordeal, it took five months for Shana’s feet to heal from the injuries she received while digging.

Max’s Painful Choice
Breed: German shepherd
Where: Novato, California

Late one night in February 2014, Jack Farell, 80, called 911 to report a dog attack. He had woken up bleeding on his kitchen floor, his left arm in the jaws of his adopted German shepherd, Max. “I thought he had turned on me,” said Jack, a retired firefighter.

But as emergency personnel figured out later, Max had actually saved Jack from carbon monoxide poisoning.

When Jack had gotten out of bed during the night, he’d passed out from inhaling the gas and collapsed to the floor. Max likely tried to wake the man by clawing his face, to no avail. So the dog took Jack’s left arm in his mouth and pulled the comatose man from the bedroom and down the hall, presumably intending to drag Jack out of the house.

When Jack learned the truth, his heart flooded with gratitude. “He saved my life,” Jack said.

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