Animals have served as companions and helpers for humans since prehistory, constantly at our side, helping us with our work, and taking us places beyond where our own feet can take us. But did you know how often animals have also saved human lives?
Researched,rewritten, and compiled by Clifton James Sawit
There are many stories of animal heroism and loyalty toward their humans. Many people owe their lives to their faithful animal friends. Here are some of their stories.
When Jo Ann Altsman and her husband Jack agreed to babysit their daughter Jackie’s Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, LuLu, little did they know that the porker would someday save Jo Ann’s life. One day the elderly couple took a trip to Lake Erie in their vacation trailer. Jack away was fishing on the lake when suddenly Jo Ann, then 61, collapsed on the floor of the trailer. She threw an alarm clock through the window and screamed for help but no one heard her. Their pet dog Bear barked and barked, also to no avail.
LuLu also cried out, but when this didn’t work she forced her 150 pound self through the trailer’s doggy door. Her stomach all cut up from squeezing through the tight door, she then lay down in traffic, eyewitnesses say. One motorist eventually stopped for her, and LuLu led her back to the trailer, where he found Jo Ann lying on the floor. Jo Ann was rushed to the hospital for open-heart surgery. Afterward doctor told her that if even just fifteen more minutes passed, she would have died. Thank goodness for LuLu’s quick and decisive thinking!
In 2005, a 12-year-old girl was abducted on the outskirts of Bita Genet, Ethiopia. She was kidnapped by seven men who were trying to force her into a marriage, long a part of the marriage customs of Ethiopia, where the United Nations estimate that more than seventy percent of marriages are by abduction.
She had been missing for a week and had been beaten repeatedly until she was found the police and some of her relatives. The search party was greeted by an amazing sight: The little girl was being guarded by three lions who had chased off her kidnappers! “They stood guard until we found her, and then they left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” said Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo, a local police officer. “Everyone thinks this is some kind of miracle, because normally the lions would attack people.” Not only did the three predators protect the defenseless young girl, but they no doubt saved her from a fate that could have been much worse.
The Gentle Giant
When five-year-old Levan Merritt fell into a silverback gorilla pit at a wildlife park in Jersey, an island in the English Channel, zoo keepers and onlookers feared the worst. Gorillas have a savage reputation that has inspired stories like King Kong, and people feared that the young boy, suffering a fractured skull and broken bones, would be torn limb from limb. To everyone’s surprise, Jambo, whose name means ‘hello’ in Swahili, stood guard over the unconscious Levan, placing himself in between the boy and the other gorillas in a protective manner. He stroked Levan’s back and waited for the boy to regain consciousness. When Levan finally woke up and began to cry, Jambo led his troop away to give human rescuers room to reach the boy and administer treatment.
Jambo’s actions that day were filmed by an onlooker and photographed by other bystanders. The story was picked up by major news channels and newspapers, showing many people that gorillas can be gentle animals too. Today a statue of Jambo still stands at the zoo, ensuring that people will remember his kindness toward little Levin for generations to come.
Everyone is familiar with the uncanny ability of parrots to imitate the calls of other birds, animals, and even human speech. But most people dismiss this particular talent as mere mimicry, thoughtless copying by an otherwise unintelligent bird. But the story of Willie the parrot challenges this widespread notion.
Megan Howard, babysitter of two-year-old Hannah Kuusk, left the toddler eating breakfast alone for a moment to go to the bathroom, when she heard someone crying “Mama! Baby!” and rushed back to find little Hannah choking on her pop tart. It turns out Willie, a green Quaker parrot, had noticed something wrong with the toddler and raised the alarm, flapping its wings and yelling, “Mama! Baby!”
Megan quickly applied the Heimlich maneuver, a first aid procedure that dislodges an obstruction from a person’s windpipe by applying pressure to the abdomen, and saved Hannah life. She gives all credit where credit is due, however. “Willie is the real hero,” she said during the Animal Lifesaver Award ceremony held by the Red Cross chapter in honor of Willie. “If (Willie hadn’t) warned me, I probably wouldn’t have come out of the bathroom in time because she was already turning blue, her lips were blue and everything.”
A Walk to Remember
Many people believe that dogs and other animals can sense vibrations and sounds that humans can’t, allowing them to be alerted to earthquakes and other natural disasters before people can. This certainly seemed to be the case with Babu, a Shih Tzu from the coastal city of Miyako, in eastern Japan. On the 11th of March, 2011, Babu’s owner, 83-year-old Tami Akanuma, noticed that the little dog seemed to want her daily walk at an earlier time than usual, whimpering and making a ruckus when the lights flickered inside their home.
As soon as Tami opened the door the dog rushed out, straining against her leash and leading the elderly lady up a hill the in opposite direction of their usual walks, looking back to make sure her owner was keeping up the pace. She then heard an announcement over the community speaker system, warning them about the impending tsunami. Tami and Babu eventually made it up the hill, where they looked back and saw their home, located 200 meters from the sea, and the whole district of Taro-Kawamukai covered in sea water and mud.The great Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 claimed over 15,000 human lives. Fortunately for the quick instincts and dedication of little Babu, Tami Akanuma was not one of them. “Babu must have sensed a tsunami was coming,” said Akanuma.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s February 2015 issue.