Animal Hall of Fame 2006

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M

Lynn Johnson is a well known Canadian, familiar to many of us. Her popular comic strip, For Better or For Worse, now appears in more than 2,000 newspapers in eight languages. Johnson was a presenter at the recent Purina Animal Hall of Fame award ceremonies in Toronto. There is no question that without the heroic actions of this year's inductees into the Animal Hall of Fame, events could have gone for the worse in the lives of some very nice people. I want to share the stories of these three dogs and how they made things for the better.

In Bath, Ontario, the three Giffen children had convinced their parents there was room in their home for a puppy. They already had one dog and two cats. Schmichael, a 12 week pup joined the family. He was an exuberant, happy pup and on his arrival, Cole, Spencer and Sarah persuaded Tracie, their mom to allow them to stay up late to play with their new pet. When father, Daniel arrived home from work he found the whole family soundly sleeping in their beds and Schmichael, out like a light, in his crate by the bed.

About 1:30 in the morning, loud whining and whimpering from the pup awakened Daniel. Something was wrong and Schmichael seemed to be trying desperately to get the attention of someone. When Daniel got out of his bed to investigate, he was shocked to see through the bedroom window the barn just behind the house ablaze. Flames were leaping high in the nighttime sky. He screamed a warning and the family and pets were rounded up and fled outside.

The fire department firefighters fought valiantly to put out the blaze but flames spread to the house and the family lost everything. But their lives had been saved. For this, the Giffen family gives much credit to Schmichael. He had been with them less than 24 hours and already he had made a tremendous impact, for the better, in their lives.

Teddy Bear, a 1 year old Pomeranian, had been acting strangely for about a month. When Georgina would sit or lay down beside Teddy Bear in their Halifax-area home, he would sniff, paw at, and jump at her right side. "He was driving me up the wall", said Georgina, recalling the events of fall 2004. "He wouldn't leave me alone. I just thought it was a habit he had."

Then one night Georgina was on the bed with Teddy Bear when he became even more agitated, trying to bury his head in her right side and acting as if he might even nip her. But this time, his contact with her right breast caused some pain. When Georgina examined the area, she felt a lump, a hard consistency in her breast. The next day she visited her doctor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and soon was in the hospital for surgery.

Georgina is now doing just fine and she firmly believes it was Teddy Bear's persistence that led her to discover the lump. Teddy Bear has never repeated his strange behaviour. Did he 'sniff out the tumour'?  There is research that shows dogs may be able to detect alkanes (simple hydrocarbon compounds) and benzene derivatives exuded by tumours. Whether Teddy Bear's actions are scientifically proven or not Georgina is certain that he helped save her life. Without early detection of her disease, consequences, for the worse, might have come about.

Samuri, a 6 year old Akita, was born blind. However, Samuri - meaning guard or warrior in Japanese - compensated for his lack of sight with his devotion, his heightened sense of hearing and attentiveness. Last November, his special skills became a real blessing for the family that lived across the street from Samuri and his owners, the Drozdowski family.

It was evening, getting dark and a light snow had fallen in their Winnipeg neighbourhood. Don Drozdowski and his son, Jonathan, were watching television. Samuri was outside in the yard when he began insistently barking. It was a demanding bark, out of character for the dog. When he went outside to investigate, Don could see nothing at first but Samuri was relentless and seemed to be directing him toward the street. There, lying next to the curb was Kathy Arnold, a young college student who lived across the street. Kathy was slipping in and out of consciousness, mumbling incoherently. Kathy had suffered a stroke and her cries were too faint to be heard by anyone except by a blind Akita who lived across the street. Guards and warriors take on their duties, for better or for worse, and on this night, Samuri had truly lived up to his name and become a guardian angel for Kathy, effecting her discovery and rescue.

I'm sure everyone salutes this year's recognized animal heroes.