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Extraordinary Pets

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Family pets can be funny, entertaining and great companions. But nothing highlights the incredible strength of the human-animal bond more than when a pet becomes a life saving hero alerting a family member to a potential life-threatening crisis.

Linda and Jason Guindon of Peterborough in Ontario, Canada credit their adopted French Neapolitan Mastiff named K’os for saving the life of their son Hunter. Not long after the teenager was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a critical condition that affects the lungs and can cause difficulty breathing, K’os woke the couple with his incessant barking drawing them into Hunter’s room. There they found dog standing over the convulsing body of their son and were quickly able to call 911 and get Hunter to hospital where doctors diagnosed that he has suffered a life-threatening grand mal seizure.

“Knowing that K’os is always by Hunter’s side and will stay extra close when he is having a more difficult day is very comforting,” says Linda Guidon. “He’s more than just a beloved pet; he’s Hunter’s true hero and protector.”

Mary Siemiesz, spokesperson for the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, where K’os has since been inducted into the Animal Hall of Fame for his extraordinary life-saving deed has many such stories to share as in the past four decades, more than 150 inductees have been recognized including 125 dogs, 25 cats and one horse for life-saving acts that include sensing deadly medical conditions to saving their owners from wild animal attacks.

“Over and over again, animals display this keen perception or sixth sense at the times when we seem to need it the most, as well as the remarkable ability to act on that sense to help those around them,” says Siemiesz. “They really just seem to know what to do. The bond we share with pets can be truly inspiring.”

Pets have been known to detect cancer before their pet parent is even aware of their medical condition, saved countless people from burning buildings and prevented fatal accidents as in the story of a whippet named Moose whose persistent barking alerted a couple that their three year old daughter had gotten her neck stuck in a wire gate.

Such intrepid acts are not exclusive to dogs. And perhaps nothing is more remarkable than the story of an eight-year-old cat named Pudding who last month (Feb 2012) saved his new owner Amy Jung’s life only one-and-a-half hours after being adopted from the Door County Humane Society in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Jung, who has suffered from diabetes since childhood was asleep when she started to have a seizure and was woken by the cat who was sitting on her chest and swatting her face with his paw and biting her nose.

“It’s truly an amazing story,” said Sarah Ewaskowitz, office co-coordinator a the shelter who invited Pudding and Jung to visit to celebrate on the one-month anniversary of his adoption last week (March 8).”He’s a true celebrity around here.”

Oscar, the resident tabby cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for dementia patients in Providence, Rhode Island made headlines around the world when geriatrician David Dosa MD recognized the feline’s uncanny ability to predict death, allowing family members enough time to gather around their loved ones and say goodbye. Oscar’s story is beautifully told in Dosa’s book Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat.

In his book, Dosa speculates that Oscar perceives a pheromone or another smell emitted by a dying patient and discusses the possibilities that his talent is behavioral, that he is merely imitating nurses and doctors at the facility.

Certified cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger agrees.

“Cats, dogs and other animals have highly developed senses that probably enable them to detect changes in people’s health before the people are aware of them. There may be subtle changes in odor, blood pressure, electrical impulses and other physical changes that alert animals that something is amiss. In the natural order of things, there are physical changes that occur prior to death as the body starts to shut down. I think Oscar detects these changes and responds by staying near the person who is passing.”

Oscar continues to do his good work.

Interestingly, many of the pets whose heroic acts have made headlines were formerly homeless pets adopted from shelters. Such deeds give new meaning to the word ‘rescue’.

Note: The Purina Animal Hall of Fame is located at the PawsWay Pet Discovery Centre at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Canada. It’s open year-round and admission is free.