Contrary to popular belief, heroes aren’t relegated to comic books or the big screen—or even to humanity. Animals both wild and domesticated regularly demonstrate heroic feats of bravery. Service dogs who assist and protect their owners. Pets who call attention to dire danger. Packs of predators who suddenly and randomly display unexpected kindness. (Oh, and don’t forget the canines and felines who have literally served on the front lines.)
Yes, for these furry and friendly heroes, saving a life—or multiple lives—is just second nature. One could even call it animal instinct. So read on, and meet your new pantheon of heroes—none of whom wear capes (or walk on two legs, for that matter). And for more incredible trivia about our furry friends, these are the 23 Smallest Animals on the Planet.
Todd the golden retriever saved his owner from a rattlesnake.
When Paula Godwin set out for a hike with her two dogs, she never suspected that her golden retriever, Todd, would become her knight in shining armor. While walking down a paved trail in Arizona, Todd, as recounted in a now-viral Facebook Live video, suddenly jumped in front of Godwin, protecting her from a rattlesnake that she was about to step on. Despite being bit by the venomous snake, Todd made a full recovery. And to see what happened to Todd, See How the Arizona Diamondbacks Honored Him at a Pre-Game Ceremony.
Three lions saved a girl from abduction.
A group of lions sprang into action to save a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl who was abducted and beaten by men attempting to force her into marriage. According to sergeant Wondimu Wedajo, as reported by NBC News, the girl was later found to be guarded by the three lions, who reportedly chased off her attackers and waited until police came to retreat back into the forest. And for some human heroism, check out the 11 Times A-List Celebrities Became Real Life Heroes.
Therapy dogs helped students cope with loss at Sandy Hook Elementary.
After the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first graders and six school officials dead in 2012, they turned to therapy dogs to help ease the pain of this tragedy. The mourning children said that petting and hanging with the Hudson Valley Golden Retrievers Club provided them with a sweet relief from the days of grief. “When they come over and you pet them you kind of forget about what’s happening for a little bit,” then-12-year-old Ryan Williams told the New York Daily News.
Scarlett the cat helped save kittens from a burning building.
When the abandoned garage in Brooklyn that Scarlett and her kittens were living in caught on fire in 1996, firefighters on the scene began to notice an incredible rescue mission taking shape. According to the New York Daily News, firefighters said that Scarlett, despite being severely burned (her eyes were actually blistered shut for a time, but don’t worry, they’re all better now), she took to action, removing each of her kittens from the burning building one by one and touching each one with her nose, to make sure that they were all alive and well.
Lily helped rescue folks trapped by tornado wreckage.
Just months after pulling through a mysterious illness, Lily became an integral part of the rescue mission following the devastating tornado that ravaged the town of Joplin, Missouri. According to the Joplin Globe, despite still recovering from her illness, Lily spent two weeks searching for survivors underneath the rubble—without one complaint. And for more of the world’s most interesting pets, check out these 20 Craziest Pets People Actually Own.
The dogs who helped 9/11 survivors.
While there were many heroes involved in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, a group that may not receive as much recognition is the group of dogs who helped pull survivors from the rubble. In fact, more than 300 search-and-rescue dogs were sent to the fallen Twin Towers—with one, as reported by Today, ultimately pulling the last remaining survivor, Genelle Guzman-McMillan, from the wreckage that she had been trapped under for more 27 hours.
LuLu the potbellied pig saved her human’s life.
When Jo Ann Altsman suffered a heart attack in 1998, it was her pig, LuLu, who ultimately came to her rescue, and even saved her life. As recounted by the Old Post Gazette, LuLu, seeing her owner in distress, made her way out on to the road, and lay down on the road as if playing dead. Then, when a man finally found her, she led the man back to her owner, and the guy immediately called the police.
Stubby fought in World War I.
Sergeant Stubby was a dog and official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the United States military in World War I. According to the Military Times, he served for 18 months and fought in 17 battles, saving his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks and finding and comforting the wounded. Upon his death in 1926, Stubby was given a half-page obituary in the New York Times—much longer than any other notable person from that time.
A Beluga Whale saved a diver from drowning.
Freediver Yang Yun owes her life to the beluga whale that saved her from drowning during a competition in which she had to climb to the bottom of the tank and attempt to stay there as long as possible. Upon attempting to rise back to the surface of the Arctic waters, Yun’s legs were paralyzed and she could not reach the surface. Lucky for her, according to Aqua Views, the magazine of scuba gear company Leisure Pro, a nearby beluga whale was there to gently drag her to the surface, where she was finally able to catch a breath.
Cher Ami the carrier pigeon helped rescue hundreds in World War I.
Cher Ami, French for “dear friend,” was a carrier pigeon who helped deliver important messages to the French troops in World War I. She is most famous for, according to the National Museum of American History, despite being critically injured, delivering a message from an encircled battalion that ultimately saved their lives.
A bear saved a hiker from a mountain lion.
Robert Briggs was just enjoying a hike through the California wilderness, admiring a group of black bears, when he was suddenly attacked by a mountain lion. As reported by the Huffington Post, at one point along his route, the mountain lion pounced on Briggs, and he was sure that his chances of survival were slim—at least until one of the black bears grabbed the mountain lion, attacking him by the throat, causing him to scamper off. Then, the black bear lowered down to all fours, looked Briggs dead in the eyes, and walked off.
Lefty took a bullet for her owner.
When four intruders entered Lefty the pitbull’s home in the middle of the night in 2013, she, according to the Huffington Post, sprang to action to save her human family. At one point, when one of the intruders went after one of her owners, she sprang in front of him, taking the bullet (literally) for him. And,though she needed to have one of her legs amputated, Lefty ended up living to tell the tail—and was hailed as a hero across the world. And for more awesome puppy tales (and tails), don’t miss these 25 Photos That Prove Dogs Are the Best Co-Workers.
Bloodhounds are in the process of ending poaching.
In Kenya, poaching is meeting its new adversary in these cute and cuddly bloodhounds. Trained to track down the human scent of individual poachers known to be greatly harming the endangered animals in the Mara Triangle, these bloodhounds are just beginning to reduce the number of poachers in the area, as reported by the AFP.
Llamas provide a sense of calm to hospice patients.
Pisco the therapy llama, along with many others of his gentle species, according to the Chicago Tribune, have been working to bring a sense of calm and relief to those in hospice care. These terminally ill patients finally have a laugh and a cuddle with these gentle creatures while facing a scary set of circumstances.
Toby saved his owner from choking.
According to NBC News, Toby the golden retriever, in an act of intelligent heroism, saved his owner from choking. Debbie Parkhurst was eating an apple when a bite of the fruit remained lodged in her throat, causing her to choke. After attempting to give herself the Heimlich maneuver, her dog Toby pushed her to the ground and began jumping on her chest to dislodge the apple. Then, after it was dislodged, he continued to lick her face in order to keep her from passing out. Without this act of bravery, Parkhurst may not have survived.
A group of dolphins saved a surfer’s life.
According to Today, when surfer Todd Endris was facing down a shark attack (the shark had already mauled one of his legs to the bone), he began to feel hopeless—until a pod of bottlenose dolphins came to his rescue. The group of dolphins formed a protective pod around him, allowing him to swim to safety, where a friend was able to perform first aid and escort him to the hospital. Without the aid of these heroic dolphins, Endris might not have seen the same fortunate end to this encounter. And if you find yourself in such a situation and no dolphins are around, Experts Say This Is What to Do if You’re Attacked by a Shark.
Babu saved her owner from a tsunami.
Early one morning in 2011, Tami Akanuma’s dog, Babu, began to nervously circle around the home, begging her owner for a walk. Despite the early hour, Akanuma gave in and they headed out for their walk around the neighborhood. All was normal until Babu began to head a new direction—one the pair normally didn’t take—up upon a large hill overlooking the sea, according to Public Radio International. Babu’s owner didn’t realize why the pup had taken this route until they got to the top of the hill and looked down on the wreckage of their neighborhood that had just been swept away by a large tsunami.
Sergeant Reckless was a Korean War hero.
According to CNN, Sergeant Reckless was a decorated warhorse who held official rank in the United States military. She served in numerous combat actions and helped to supply ammunition and supplies to the front lines, along with aiding the wounded. These actions eventually led to her being awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.
Willie the parrot saved a child from choking.
“Mama, baby!” were the startled cries of this hero parrot when he noticed the toddler his owner, Megan Howard, was looking after had begun to choke, according to the Daily Mail. Howard was then able to run into the room and give the child the Heimlich Manuever—and Willie the parrot became a national hero.
Kabang pushed her humans out of the way of a speeding motorcyclist.
Kabang, a dog from the Philippines, became an international hero when he saved his owner’s daughter and friend from walking in front of a speeding motorcycle by jumping on top of the motorcycle, as reported by the Daily Mail. While the girls only suffered minor injuries, Kabang’s snout got caught in the front wheel of the motorcycle, severely injuring the bones of her upper jaw and snout. With help from a grassroots fundraiser, Kabang was eventually able to receive the extensive surgeries that she desperately needed.
Dolphins saved a suicidal teen.
When a girl attempted to drown herself in waters off the coast of California, a group of bottlenose dolphins came to her rescue. As it happens, the group of dolphins were being studied by field biologist Dr. Maddalena Bearzi, of Dolphin Biology and Conservation, and her team, when they noticed the dolphins all veering off in a certain direction—and then noticed the girl, struggling for breath.
A hippo saved a zebra from drowning.
While the hippo is known as an incredibly unpredictable and sometimes volatile animal, in this case, it was a hippo who showed immense kindness when coming to the aid of a drowning zebra. This heroic act was captured in a video taken by a bystander, showing the hippo nudging the zebra across the rushing rapids of the river and on to a nearby rock cluster.
Khan the Doberman saved a young girl from a snake.
Just four days after adopting their new dog, Khan, he ended up saving a member of their family’s life, according to the South Australian Advertiser. When seventeen-month-old Charlotte Svillcic was playing outside in the garden of her home in Australia, Khan began acting strangely and sort of aggressively toward the girl, attempting to push her out of the area. As his owner witnessed, Khan had spotted the world’s third-most venomous snake, the King Brown snake, and quickly grabbed Charlotte by the diaper and threw her over his shoulder, taking the bite from the snake on his paw—most likely saving the girl’s life. And, though he was in a large amount of pain for a day, Khan eventually fully recovered.
Kilo took a bullet to save his owners.
When a thief posing as a FedEx delivery man in Staten Island showed up at Justin Becker’s apartment, his dog, Kilo, managed to help his owner chase the thief out of the area. However, according to the Daily Mail, when Kilo stuck his head out of the door to make sure the coast was clear, the thief shot him in the head. Despite the injury, Kilo made a full recovery.
Buddy the German Shepherd led officials to a burning home.
In a remote part of Alaska, Buddy’s family’s home was aflame and in danger of burning to the ground—so he took action. After seeing his owner in distress, Buddy took off running until he found the first car, which happened to be a state trooper, and led him to the house just in time to save the family. And yes, there’s dash cam footage of the whole affair.
Tang saved a sinking boat.
During a snowstorm in 1919, Tang, a Newfoundland dog, saved a sinking ship in Canada by grabbing a rope and dragging it to a nearby shoreline—saving the 92 passengers onboard, according to Dog Heroes: True Stories about Extraordinary Animals Around the World.
Mandy the goat gave her injured owner milk to survive.
The story of Mandy is a bit of an urban legend, though it regularly makes the rounds. Here’s the Homeric telling: During a typical day working at his farm, near Melbourne, Noel Osborne was accidentally knocked into a pile of manure, shattering his hip. For five days, he yelled out for help to no avail, with only the comfort of his goat, Mandy, by his side. Heroically, the goat worked to keep him warm and even allowed him to feed off of her milk for sustenance. Eventually, a friend came to help the farmer and he was able to tell the world about Mandy’s kind deed.
Kerry saved her owner from being stampeded.
As reported by The Guardian, Kerry the horse quickly became a hero when her owner, while attempting to move a cow and her calf, was stampeded by the angry mother looking to protect her young. The angry mother ended up knocking her owner to the ground, and continously pushing her into the dirt, making sure that she was far away from her calf. Just as her owner had begun to fear the worst, her horse, Kerry, came to her rescue, kicking the cow away from her, just in time for the owner to scramble to her feet to de-escalate the situation. For years after this incident, Kerry continued to remain by her owner’s side, fearful of any more attempts like this.
Honey the cocker spaniel brought rescuers to the scene of a car crash.
Just two weeks after Michael Bosch saved his cocker spaniel, Honey, from the shelter, she too, saved his life. According to ABC News, the dog was with Bosch when he backed out of his driveway with a bit too much force, sending his car into a nearby remote ravine, flipping the car upside down. Eventually, Bosch was able to roll the window down and instructed Honey to go get help—which she did. She ran half a mile to a neighbor’s house, who she led to the scene—and Bosch could finally get the help that he needed.
Ning Nong the elephant saved a young girl from a tsunami wave.
Eight-your-old Amber Owen and her family were vacationing in Phuket, in 2005, when a terrible struck the coastline where they were staying. Thankfully for Amber, she had grown close to one of the local elephants, Ning Nong, who she happened to be hitching a ride on when the first wave hit. According to the Daily Mail, the elephant, sensing further danger, ran them both further inland, saving the girl’s life.
Chi Chi alerted his owners to nearby danger.
In 2010, Chi Chi was lounging on a beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, when he suddenly ran off running, dragging the lawn chair that he was attached to with him. As it turns out, he had spotted an elderly couple in trouble of drowning, having been spent out to sea by a large wave. According to Today, his barks alerted his owners and they were able to get the couple to safety.
Pudding the cat saved her owner the same day her owner saved her.
On the same day that Amy Jung adopted her cat, Pudding, in fact, just a few hours later, the cat managed to save her life. As originally reported in the Green Bay Press Gazette, Pudding sprang into action when, Amy, who was a Type 1 diabetic, began convulsing. The cat then jumped on her lap, swatting at her face to bring her to consciousness, where Amy was able to call out for her son, though it didn’t prove to be loud enough to wake the sleeping boy. When Pudding realized that Amy needed her son, she ran to the boy’s room and woke him up and he was able to give his mother the care that she needed.
A gorilla saved a boy at the zoo.
When a boy fell through an enclosure at the Western Lowland Gorilla Pit in the Brookfield Zoo in 1996, a mother gorilla came to the rescue to protect him from the others in the pit. According to ABC News, she carried the injured boy around, gently guarding him against the other gorillas until letting him go when zoo officials were able to safely remove the boy from the situation.
An elephant young girl from feeding frenzy.
As reported by the Independent, after a rampaging elephant in India broke into the home of Dipak Mahato, looking for food, they quickly stopped dead in their tracks when they heard the cries of a young girl lying just below their point of entry. Then, while the girl’s parents watched, the elephant began removing pieces of debris from on top of the girl, saving her life. After making sure the little girl was okay, the elephant retreated back into the nearby forest.
Togo the Sled Dog traversed 200 miles of ice to save his town.
In 1925, a remote village in Alaska, Nome, was hit with a very deadly bout of diphtheria—and since no plane or boat was able to transport the needed serum to the village, a team of sled dogs were chosen to complete this incredibly arduous task. According to Time, for more than 200 miles, Togo and his team ventured through blizzards, ice floes, and other incredibly dangerous obstacles—but still eventually delivered the serum to the people, saving the entire village.
Simon the cat wiped out a rat infestation and saved lives.
According to the BBC, Simon served on board the British Royal Navy sloop HMS Amethyst in 1948, boosting morale on a ship that often saw intense combat. During a particularly rough battle in China in 1949, a few pieces of shrapnel managed to hit Simon, severely injuring him. Despite the expectation that Simon wouldn’t make it through the night, he managed to limp back to duty, running off a rat infestation and bringing joy to the few members on board. He later succumbed to his injuries, but is still remembered for his service and heroism.
Moko the dolphin saved whales from certain death.
Moko the bottlenose dolphin was already a celebrity in his hometown at Mahia Beach in New Zealand before he saved two beached whales from certain death. Before Moko came to the rescue, the man that discovered the two whales figured that he would have to put them down in order to save them from a very slow, painful death. Then, miraculously, Moko approached the pair of distressed whales and led them through a narrow channel to the safety of the sea, according to the Independent.
A Japenese rescue dog saved a peer.
When an earthquake hit Japan in 2011, most of the images of its aftermath were incredibly devastating—except for this snapshot of canine camaraderie. Though rescuers had attempted to take the wounded dog to a clinic, the other dog stood guard, not letting anyone near them, while occasionally offering a comforting pat with his paw, according to Time. Eventually, both dogs were given the proper medical attention and the world could hang on to at least one positive thing from the aftermath of such a horrendous event.
Magic the Miniature Mare helped a woman speak for the first time in years.
Magic, the blue-eyed therapy mare, while doling out unconditional love and company to those in group homes and hospice care centers, also managed to help a woman find her voice. When Magic went to visit an assisted-living facility in Florida, his presence moved a woman so much that, according to Time, she exclaimed: “Isn’t she beautiful?”—the first words she had spoken in three years.
Dory the rabbit saved her owner from a diabetic reaction.
When Simon Steggall suffered a diabetic episode, it was his house rabbit, Dory, who ended up alerting his wife, Victoria, and ultimately saving his life, according to the BBC. After passing out, Dory jumped on his chest, scratching and hopping in an attempt to wake him and alert Victoria. Then, once Victoria noticed what had happened, she was able to call for help. And for heroes from the animal kingdom, check out these 15 Animals with Impressive Titles.
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