A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Shelter Dogs Who Saved Their Owners’ Lives

When you rescue a dog, you never know if you might ultimately be rescuing yourself.

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Bubba, a dog I photographed for a Northern California animal shelter, finally found his home after spending the better part of a year in a kennel. He is free!
Photography by Adri/Shutterstock

Amazing shelter dogs

When most people adopt a rescue dog, they’re seeking companionship from their new furry friend. These people got that and a second chance at life, thanks to their shelter dogs.

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Tiny black mutt hangs out on the patio
Sara Valenti/Shutterstock

Found on a highway, his family wouldn’t be alive without him

When Angela Fullmer and her husband, Isaac, saw a dog wandering around on the highway back in 2015, they knew they had to rescue him from homelessness. Of course, they never dreamed he’d one day save them from losing much more. But that’s precisely what happened a year and a half later when Capone, a mix of miniature pinscher, Chihuahua, and whippet, alerted Angela to a fire that had started in her kitchen. Thanks to Capone, Angela and all nine of her children made it out to safety (Isaac was traveling at the time). This isn’t the only time a dog has saved its owner’s life—here are more canine heroes.

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White and gray color Pitbull puppy sitting on a dark wood floor background. Blue nose staffordshire

He saved his owner from assault

“He’s a good boy. I think he saved my life,” Maya Fairweather, told the New York Post of Apollo, the 5-month-old “fearless” pit bull pup who saved her from a violent assault a few years back when she was just 18. She had been walking Apollo, whom her boyfriend had rescued, one evening in Brooklyn when a strange man grabbed her headphones and pushed her to the ground. But Apollo immediately understood what was going on and bit Fairweather’s attacker on the leg—so hard, in fact, that it took a bit of a struggle for the assailant to shake the dog off. Like Apollo, this incredible search dog saved a person’s life.

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Pitbull dog at dog park.
Sarah Ros/Shutterstock

A home invasion hero

Score another win for pit bull rescue pups. Dogster reports it was none other than a pit bull named DBoy who saved Roberta Trawick from a home invasion—at gunpoint—in Oklahoma City. “Some people perceive pit bulls to be dangerous animals but nothing could be more wrong in the case of this pit bull,” Dogster noted. Speaking of pit bulls, these 10 pit bull facts are totally wrong.

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Redhead big dog, portrait. Mixed with Akita inu
Irina Kozorog/Shutterstock

How Axel the Akita mix saved a great-great-grandma

Last year, a rescue dog named Axel saved a great-great-grandmother living in Manchester, England from a home invasion. Eighty-six-year-old Joyce Ackerly had rescued the shepherd-akita mix four years earlier, and clearly Axel knew where his loyalties lay: he literally “pounced” on the robber, bit him, and chased him down the street. Ackerly told the BBC that Axel was her “hero” and he had “saved my life.” Smart pet owners will want to find out the 30 things your dog wishes you knew.

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Portrait of a young yorkshire terrier beagle mix dog in the woods / dog park. Shallow depth of field.
ARENA Creative/Shutterstock

Tiny but fierce, a Yorkie-mix saves her owner from a diabetic coma

As reported by Fox 10 in Phoenix, a man named Michael has his rescue pup, Jazzy, to thank for saving his life when he fell into a diabetic coma. In 2018, Michael was at home when his blood sugar levels dipped dangerously low. It was Jazzy’s incessant barking that alerted Michael’s mom, Christine, to the fact that something was amiss, but Jazzy was doing much more than simply barking. When Christine found Michael, Jazzy was sitting on his chest, trying to revive him (which consisted of digging her feet into his chest and bumping her face into his…awww). Insights to your health are one of the 13 revealing secrets your dog knows about you.

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a female Pit Bull terrier
Fernando Duran/Shutterstock

Yet another pit bull saves the day

Recently, Sadie, a 60-pound pit bull, broke out of her house in Tuckahoe, New York in order to get help when she smelled (or otherwise sensed) a gas leak. Police officers found Sadie wandering around the street, barking and barking. It was clear almost immediately Sadie wasn’t a runaway but was trying to convey a message. It’s unclear what might have happened had Sadie not gotten help, but police in Tuckahoe and Sadie’s owner are grateful for Sadie’s willingness to help—and ingenuity in finding a way to break out of her house to do so. A phenomenal sense of smell is one of the 11 superpowers that dogs have and humans don’t.

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Old Black Dog with Gray Muzzle Relaxing at Home
Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

An elderly rescue dog risks her life to save her people from a bear

Shelby is a 13-year-old shepherd and retriever mix living with Louise Robillard and Andy Chyc, who adopted Shelby to help protect their 35-acre property in Ontario’s Sault Saint-Marie from small predators like foxes and coyotes. In 2018, Shelby took on a much bigger adversary in the form of an angry momma bear. Robillard had been walking Shelby along a trail when she spotted three black bear cubs. Apparently, the momma bear believed Robillard posed a threat to her cubs and came charging at her. Shelby literally fought the bear off. She came through seriously injured but alive and after four months of treatment, is healthy once again. These are the smartest dogs, ranked by breed.

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A loving and peaceful border collie puppy relaxes in the grass

This dog sniffed out her owner’s ovarian cancer

Something that makes ovarian cancer so dangerous is that it’s often not diagnosed until it’s spread to other organs. But try telling that to a rescue pup insistent on saving his person’s life. Hazel MacDonnell had noticed Bob, a border collie, seemed out of sorts back in December 2015. But it turned out it wasn’t Bob’s health that Bob was worried about. When Bob finally started jumping on and hitting Macdonnell in the stomach, she got the message and booked an appointment with her internist, which appointment ultimately led to a diagnosis of early-stage ovarian cancer three months later. Find out how to decode what your dog’s trying to tell you with their facial expressions.

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A white Pit Bull mixed breed dog outdoors
Mary Swift/Shutterstock

This dog saved his owner from cardiac arrest

In another pit-bull-saves-owner story, Roxy the pit bull saved her person from cardiac arrest—and just in the nick of time. Adam Bavario, 46, had been having chest pains since his 30s, but doctors didn’t take him seriously. Roxy, however, did. In February, when Bavario collapsed with chest pains, Roxy proceeded to lick and nudge Bavario until he woke up. Bavario immediately called an ambulance. Doctors say there’s no doubt that if Roxy hadn’t revived Bavario, Bavario would not be here today. It’s important that owners, likewise, know the silent signs their pup is sick.

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A black Pit Bull Terrier mixed breed dog listening with a head tilt
Mary Swift/Shutterstock

This pit bull put her life on the line to drag her person from the train tracks

Christine Spain suffers from alcoholism, so her son brought her a rescue pup, Lilly, a pit bull, whom he hoped might help his mom cope with her illness. As it turned out, Lilly saved Spain’s life, almost giving hers up in the process when she frantically managed to awaken Spain, who had passed out on some train tracks near her home. Unfortunately, an oncoming train struck Lilly, who lost one of her legs but eventually recovered. Read on for more heroic stories of the bravest dogs throughout history.


  • USA Today: “Hero Dog Saves Family With 9 Children From Fire”
  • New York Post: “Hero Dog Stops Rape”
  • Bright Side: “8 Loyal Pets Who Saved Their Owners’ Lives”
  • BBC News: “‘Hero’ Dog Saves Owner, 86, From Robber”
  • FOX10 Phoenix: “Hero rescue dog saves owner’s life”
  • CBS New York: “Hero Dog Breaks Out of House, Leads Police Back Home To Save Owner From Gas Leak”
  • CTV News: “Rescue who saved owner from bear among 3 heroic hounds inducted into hall of fame”
  • Dailyrecord.co: “Faithful rescue dog saves owner’s life by sniffing out ovarian cancer”
  • FOX5 San Diego: “Man suffering ‘widow maker’ heart attack says dog saved his life”
  • Dogtime.com: “Pit Bull Awareness Month: 5 Heroic Pit Bulls Who Saved Their Owners’ Lives”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.