11 August 2016

Pet Heroes: Why do They Rescue People?

Pets are known for their many protective ways.

A cat, for instance, can protect an elderly owner from loneliness while a dog can get its owner out for walks, guarding against obesity.

But there are many pets – dogs, cats, birds and even pigs – who take protection to a whole new level, earning them hero status.

Good Housekeeping profiled many such pets including a three-legged, 15-year-old dog who literally took a bullet to protect its owners from home intruders and a mutt who became three-legged after sustaining injuries to protect his people.

A newborn was dubbed 'Baby Jade' after the dog who led its owner to the abandoned infant, while a dog named Ace gave his teenage owner a (face) licking, literally, to wake him up in time to escape a burning home.

The feature on fabulous pets doesn't exclusively extol the virtues of dogs.

There is a cat named Meatball who saved 11 lives by alerting people to a fire, a pot-bellied pig credited with fending off would-be intruders from the family home and a bird honoured for screeching to alert its family to a fire.

While many of the animals, including cats, alerted owners to fires a rescue dog named Max became a rescuer when he woke up his elderly owner just in time to escape a home filling with carbon monoxide and a dog named Buddy led an Alaska state trooper to the scene of a fire.

In other pet heroics featured on-line, a five-pound Chihuahua scared off a rattlesnake while Honey the dog ran and summoned help for his owner trapped in an overturned SUV.

Tara’s feline fury was caught on tape (attracting five million online viewers in two days,) when she attacked a dog which lunged at her young owner, and a dog injured its paw after breaking a pane of glass and barking to get attention of passersby and ultimately help for its ailing owner.

The hero stories aren't just about pets stepping up to save humans.

Scarlett (neatorama.com)
Napoleon, an English bulldog, went for a swim to retrieve a burlap sack full of discarded kittens and a death-defying Scarlett repeatedly ran back into a burning building to save her kittens.

“Scarlett pulled the kittens out one at a time. She was burned and her eyes were blinded by blisters,” states a story about the feline's heroics on Neatorama. “Still, she kept going back to get her kittens until the last one was safe...before collapsing from exhaustion.”

But why do they do it?

People rescue pets all the time but there isn't much literature on why pets rescue people.

No doubt, there is an amazing bond between some pets and their humans – and that might be part of the explanation.

A Georgia Regents University study, published in Anthrozoos, showed forty percent of people more inclined to save their pet over a foreign tourist from an oncoming bus.

And on a daily basis, people adopt pets from animal shelters - they and the shelter rescue them.

“It not only gives them a sense of purpose, I think, but ... really lifts their spirits up to do something good for something suffering,” Karin Winegar, author of 'Saved: Rescued Animals And The Lives They Transform,' told KPBS.

“And, you know, unlike people, I always say animals have all of our virtues and none of our vices. They really exemplify gratitude and joy and love, unconditional love ... and you can never have too much unconditional love.”

There is evidence to show, from a pets' perspective, people are important, too.

Studies highlighted in Science.Mic claims “the most direct dog brain-based evidence they are hopelessly devoted to humans comes from a neuroimaging study about odor processing in the dog brain.”

And that shows the “aroma” of humans and the scent of their owner “actually sparks activation in the reward centre of their brain.”

But before anyone takes pet heroics too personally, consider this; some researchers suggest cats protect people because they consider them property while pack-animal-pooches are intent on safeguarding the pack leader (who supplies food, water and shelter,) against any threat.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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