While canines are often touted as man’s best friend, they deserve more recognition as man’s greatest animal ally and helper. Here’s what lifesaving dogs have done for their humans.
There’s a reason you’ll never hear about a seeing-eye cat or a rescue cat. Dogs are pack animals, meaning they are loyal to their leader — be it their owner, or anything that feeds them (including robots, according to one study).
The trainability and loyalty of dogs is what makes them perfect for important and often life-saving duties. Here are the different professions of our doggie heroes, and notable stories of devoted pups in each field. You might want to get some tissues.
1. Guide Dogs
After WWI, Germans trained german shepherds to guide blinded veterans, a program which was shortly closed down due to economic hardships post-war.
Fortunately, wealthy American dog trainer Dorothy Eustis heard about the program and wrote about it, eventually partnering with blind U.S. veteran Morris Frank to found The Seeing Eye training school in 1929 – the oldest existing dog guide school to date.
One noteworthy hero is Roselle, a yellow lab that lead her blind owner to safety from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on September 11, 2001. Michael Hingson followed Roselle out of the building to an underground subway station, exiting right before the collapse of the south tower.
Roselle died in June of 2013, and was honored in October as the American Hero Dog of the Year, according to the American Humane Association.
2. Detection Dogs
The first American detection dogs were used in the 1940s to identify German mines in North Africa. In following decades, these pooches have expanded their sniffing repertoire to include detection of illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.
Now, detection dogs are even more versatile, including but not limited to dogs that can sniff out blood, smuggled currency, cancer, seizures, heart attacks, toxic molds, household pests, accelerants, and firearms, according to Sniff K9’s website.
One noteworthy sniffing hero is german shepherd K9 Lakota, responsible in his three years as a police dog for 80 apprehensions, 28 drug seizures, six vehicle seizures, the recovery of stolen property, and the seizure of $60,000, according to the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards.
K9 Lakota retired early after a nearly fatal car accident with his master Officer Fox, and made a miraculous recovery after four surgeries. K9 Lakota’s story is being used to help ensure protective rights for police dogs injured in the line of duty.
3. Rescue Dogs
Dogs have been used for rescue purposes since at least the mid-1700s, when monks inhabiting an isolated monastery between Switzerland and Italy used St. Bernards to recover lost travelers, according to Saintly Bernard’s Rescue.
Since then, dogs of all breeds have been trained to rescue and track, including another 9/11 hero named Trakr. This hero was able to locate the last human survivor, found buried under 30 feet of debris at Ground Zero.
Trakr, who died in 2009 after suffering neurological issues caused by the toxic fumes, was shortly after successfully cloned, ABC News reports. The result? Five identical puppies that owners are hoping can continue her incredible line of work.
4. Therapy Dogs
While dogs have had physical roles in guiding humans for centuries, it was only in the 1970s that canine potential as a therapeutic presence was realized.
According to Therapy Dogs International, studies show that holding and petting an animal can lower blood pressure, release stress and tension, and relieve loneliness and depression.
At the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, therapy dog Elle was named the year’s top American Hero Dog. This calm and loving pit bull teaches children about dog safety, overcoming fears, and combating destructive stereotypes.
Elle, along with her companion and owner Leah Brewer, has also started a reading program for children called “Tail Wagging Tales.”
Originally published on December 11, 2013.