Animals and humans have had close relationships with one another since the beginning of human evolution. Many ancient culture’s myths and legends contain tales of animals, portraying them as gods, guardians, beholders of wisdom, spirit guides, messengers to the gods themselves, and performers of heroic tasks. In particular, the Romans have a legend about their ancestors, Romulus and Remus, who as children, were fed and reared by a mother wolf.
In modern day times, there is a plethora of stories about animals who sacrifice their own well-being in order to save another animal or human who is in some sort of peril. You may think that it is only certain animals who perform these types of acts, when in actuality, the range of animal species that are heroes is quite broad.
Canines have been recognized for some time as intuitive creatures, for they can alarm or protect humans from a range of possible threats. Dogs are able to sense when a person is about to have a stroke or a heart attack. As well, a dog’s strong sense of smell can detect certain diseases, such as, diabetes and several different types of cancer. It is believed that canines can smell these diseases through the breath of a human.
There are countless stories of dogs acting for the benefit of another animal or human. One such account involves a dog named, Angel, who saved a young boy from a cougar attack in British Columbia. Angel was able to fight off the cougar while the boy managed to get inside and call for help. Luckily, Angel survived her heroic encounter with the large feline.
Quite a few of these accounts of dog heroes acted on behalf of people or animals that were not even owned or known by the humans or animals in trouble. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, a black lab named, Katrina, saved a man from drowning who was a mere stranger to her.
Another story involves an English bulldog, named Napoleon, who plunged into deep water in order to rescue a sack out of the lake which contained six drowning kittens. Two of the kittens sadly did not make it, but the other four survived thanks to Napoleon.
“First, dogs will return love under almost any circumstances, unlike humans. Next, dogs are herd animals by instinct, so the humans around them become their pack, to be protected. And finally, some dogs are working dogs, and it’s in their blood to save and even rescue.”
– Yoram Hamizrachi
Besides just canines, here are some more remarkable accounts of domesticated animals carrying out heroic deeds.
One afternoon, when Meagan was babysitting her roommate’s two year old toddler, she left her alone for a minute to use the bathroom. When suddenly, she heard her pet parrot, Willie, screeching, “Mama! Baby!”, a series of words she had not heard the parrot use before in that order. She ran out and saw that the toddler was choking on food, and was able to save her by giving her the Heimlich maneuver just in time.
The next pet hero story happened when Dianne Busscher, in the middle of the night, awoke to the cries of their cat, Oreo, coming from the garage. Upon entering, she saw smoke and flames, grabbed the cat, and was able to wake the rest of the family and safely get outside, all due to Oreo’s warning.
Another report of animal heroism took place one evening, when Simon Steggall had seemingly fallen asleep in front of the television. Their pet rabbit, Dory, was house trained and allowed to roam free throughout the home. Simon’s wife, Victoria, came into the living room when she noticed Dory jumping around nervously on top of her husband’s chest. When she was unable to wake him, she realized he had lapsed into a diabetic coma. She then called 911 and was able to get Simon the medical attention he needed, thanks to Dory.
You might assume that it is only domesticated animals that act selflessly for another’s benefit. When in fact, there are a variety of these types of stories involving animals of the wild.
In Ethiopia, a twelve year old girl had been kidnapped. Her abductors were harming her, when they were interrupted by a group of lions that chased the kidnappers off. The lions then stayed with the girl, not causing her any harm, and only left her once the police arrived.
When a woman was going for a walk in Oxford, Ohio, a man attacked her, and tried to choke her with her purse strings. Suddenly, a deer ran out towards the man and was able to scare off her attacker.
On the coast of California, after a surfer had been bit in the leg by a white shark, a unit of dolphins circled around the surfer protecting him against any further harm from the shark.
After reading these amazing stories of animal heroes, the question may arise, why would animals do such selfless acts that could potentially put them in harm’s way? The term for this type of behavior is called, altruistic, meaning the organism does not appear to be immediately helped by these kinds of actions. The answer as to why altruistic deeds are performed by animals is a theory in which Charles Darwin came up with himself.
Even though natural selection usually focuses on the advantage of an individual species, altruism is thought to assist the entire group of the species, rather than just one entity. This behavior can be found in Vervet monkeys, who will sound out alarm calls to alert other monkeys of a nearby predator. Evolutionary speaking, a group of species that conducts more acts of altruistic behavior has a higher rate of survival verses a group of self-interested creatures.
Some people may underestimate the intelligence of animals and their capability of expressing and feeling human like emotions. Studies show that animals are able to express an array of different emotions such as, but not limited to, joy, sadness, empathy, and compassion. Science has also shown us that humans have similar brain organization when compared with mammals, but not exclusively with just mammals. One part of the brain in particular, is the limbic system, which holds our emotions.
And so, it is not surprising that when one animal sees another human or animal in distress, its natural instinct is to try to intervene and help. As it has been revealed, animals have a great capacity for compassion and understanding. Humans around the world could certainly take a cue from our fellow animals, and learn how important it is to look out for one another in this wild world.