When a Cryptic Stranger Lurked Toward Their Owner, These Mild-Mannered Dogs Sprang Into Guard Mode

The normally affectionate pair weren’t going to let anyone threaten their pack.

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest will be honoring the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is a finalist in our “Lifesavers” category. Scroll to the bottom to cast your vote for Rue and Finn. To see our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals and vote in each category.

When my first German Shepherd, Little Bear, died, she left behind a grieving owner and equally grieving housemate, Rue. Just a year old, Rue was full of boundless puppy energy which vanished quickly when Bear passed away.

A couple of weeks after Bear’s passing, a friend asked if I’d foster a five-month-old German Shepherd pup who’d already been rehomed three times. He was anxious, nervous, and fearful with an energy level off the charts. Within minutes of watching him and Rue together at my house, I knew he was going to be my first foster fail.

Rue taught Finn the basics: pose for mom when she gets out her camera, know the difference between mom’s hiking boots and tennis shoes (boots mean off-leash in the woods, shoes mean leashed walk in town), and the first one up the stairs gets the best spot on the bed.

Despite Finn’s idiosyncrasies, he’s by far the most snuggly dog I’ve had—and protective. One morning after a four-mile hike, I took the dogs to a waterfall across the street to get a drink. As we were headed down the trail, I noticed a man standing in front of the waterfall. I didn’t think much of it as the waterfall was a popular photography destination. As we got closer, the man was crouching among some big rocks. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to hide from me or trying to get a better photo angle, so I said a friendly hello to make him aware of my presence.

When he heard me, he stood up very slowly and made his way toward me in a menacing manner. Finn raised his hackles and began to growl and bare his teeth. The man continued approaching until he was just out of reach of the dogs. By this point, both Rue and Finn were barking ferociously in complete protection mode. I stepped off the trail and told the man I had ahold of them and to please pass.

He continued glaring at me, unmoving. I repeated myself. He said, “I’m looking at your dogs.” I had a knot in my gut, aware of what he meant: He was contemplating whether it was worth trying to fight off two big German Shepherds to get to me. Despite my internal panic, I firmly said “They are NOT friendly. Please pass.” He muttered, “I see that” and after 15 seconds finally lumbered toward the parking lot.

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Heart racing, I watched the man until he was fully out of sight, then decided to get out of there myself. As we made our way back up the trail, I was praying he wouldn’t be in the parking lot. He was. There were only two cars in the lot—mine and his. And, of course, I had to pass his car to get to mine.

Now he was standing in between our two vehicles, clearly waiting for me. Rue and Finn immediately snapped back into protection mode. As I hurried past him, I remotely unlocked the doors to the truck while the dogs continued to bark ferociously, lunging at the end of their leashes. Anyone in their right mind would have backed off. He didn’t.

I threw open the back door and tossed Rue in. As I did so, I glanced over my shoulder and saw the man looming in my direction with intent scrawled all over his face. Instinctively, I grabbed Finn by the collar and held him between me and the stranger. Finn was completely losing his mind, ready to tear this guy apart if he stepped an inch closer. Startled, the would-be attacker jumped backward. As he did so, I threw Finn into the truck, locked the doors and sped down the road.

Shaking, I pulled into a secluded lot at another park a few miles away and called the sheriff. The dispatcher assured me she would send out a couple of officers. About an hour later, I received a call from the dispatcher letting me know they picked up the man. He was still in the parking lot, probably waiting for a victim who did not have two German Shepherds with her.

Rue and Finn saved my life that day. Every day I thank God for bringing them into my life. Not only are they best friends, they are MY best friends, too!