Golden Heroes


Jason and Debbie McCall with their seventeen-month-old Golden Retreiver Oliver. Oliver saved Jason's life on a camping trip, waking him up when the carbon dioxide detector in McCall's camper went off. Photo by Daryl Sullivan/The Daily Times

Dog has friend for life: He saved one
By Rick Laney, The Daily Times Staff, June 22, 2007

Oliver, an 18-month-old golden retriever, saved Jason McCall’s life when carbon monoxide filled his camper June 9.

McCall had a busy weekend planned two weeks ago. He attended his sister-in-law’s birthday celebration, went to a motorcycle race and then on a camping trip to Blountville.

McCall, a 1992 graduate of William Blount High School, says he doesn’t go camping as much as he would like to, and was looking forward to using his camper for the first time since having a new generator installed.

After attending the motorcycle race, McCall set up camp and settled in for the evening in his 29-foot “Victory Lane” camper.

“I work nights for the United States Postal Service,” McCall said. “So I’m used to sleeping through anything — phones can ring, the neighbors can mow their yards, nothing really wakes me up.

“I turned on the air conditioning and went to sleep around 10:30 that night. A little while later, I thought I heard something, but I didn’t really wake up.

“Then Oliver jumped up on the bed and started licking my face and pushing at me. As soon as I got awake, I could hear an alarm going off. “I thought it was the smoke detector, but there wasn’t any smoke — so I figured it was the carbon monoxide detector.”

McCall turned off the generator, took the dog and exited the camper quickly. After airing out the camper he went back to sleep. “I didn’t really think too much about it in the middle of the night,” McCall said, “but while I was driving home on Sunday it really hit me. I got to thinking about how that could have turned out.

“I know what would have happened if Oliver didn’t wake me up. I was camping off by myself, so no one else would have heard the alarm or even known I was there until the next day. What Oliver did was pretty amazing.”

The exhaust on the new generator had not been installed properly, according to McCall, allowing carbon monoxide to fill his camper while he slept. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, carbon monoxide can kill people before they are aware of its presence. At lower levels of exposure, it causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. At high levels, it can kill in minutes.

McCall said Oliver was born on Christmas Day 2005. He named him after Oliver, played by Eddie Albert, on the 1960s television show “Green Acres.”

“I’ve been married to my wife, Debbie, for 11 years,” McCall said, “but we have not been able to have children. I know it sounds crazy, but in some ways Oliver is like our child.

“I like animals, but I’ve never really been an animal-rights person — but lately, I’ve been treating Oliver pretty special.”







Grizzly scare
By Tim Mowry, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 24, 2007

Todd Fitzgerald has heard bears “woof” and clack their jaws before, but he had never heard one roar until Sunday night. It’s not something he ever wants to hear again, especially given what happened immediately afterward. Fitzgerald was riding his new mountain bike on a trail near his house in the Herning Hills subdivision, about a mile off Chena Hot Springs Road at 5.5 Mile, at about 11 p.m. Sunday night when he heard a loud cracking noise, like a stick breaking, in the woods to his right.

“I didn’t even look,” said Fitzgerald, who thought it was probably a moose running through the woods. “I was focused on the trail and I was already almost by it.”

He did notice his golden retriever, Kiska, who running ahead of him, glance into the woods, however. But she didn’t express much interest and kept going. What happened next was something that Fitzgerald will never forget.

“About 70 feet down the trail in front of me, a sow (grizzly bear) stood up five feet off the trail and gave a really loud roar,” he said. “I’ve never heard anything like it. I’ve heard them woof and click their jaws but I’ve never heard them roar like that. “It was like something you see a trained bear on TV do,” he said .

The bear was what Fitzgerald, an experienced hunter, described as “an average Interior grizzly.” He estimated it between 6 and 7 feet tall. The sight and sound stopped Fitzgerald in his tracks. “I hit the brakes and dumped my bike and took off running the other way,” he said, pointing out his skid marks in the dirt on Wednesday night as he revisited the scene with a reporter and photographer, this time with a loaded shotgun slung over his shoulder.

Almost immediately, Fitzgerald figured that he had ridden between a sow and its cub. The sow was standing on the left side of the trail and the cub was probably the source of the noise that he had heard on the right side of the trail.

“As soon as I saw the bear stand up, I immediately tied that together as a sow and a cub,” he said. “The only thing in my mind was, ‘I gotta leave and get out of here.’ “

While Fitzgerald knows better than to run from a grizzly bear — experts say you should back away slowly and give the bear space — the 46-year-old electrician for Golden Valley Electrical Association ran for all he was worth. “I didn’t do a lot of thinking in that split second,” he confided. “I know I did all the wrong things but I was not going to back away slowly.”

While Fitzgerald turned and ran the other way, Kiska did the opposite by confronting the bear. “I could hear my dog going crazy, barking at the bear,” said Fitzgerald.

At first, it didn’t seem like his legs were working, Fitzgerald said. When he finally was able to get moving, Fitzgerald tripped and did a faceplant after 10 feet. But he could still hear Kiska barking. “I thought, ‘This is good; the dog’s doing his job’ and I kept running as fast as I could,” Fitzgerald said.

As he ran, Fitzgerald formulated a plan. He knew there was an old rope swing hanging from a tree about 100 feet up the hill he was sprinting. If he could reach that, he knew he could climb up it. “That was my first exit plan,” Fitzgerald said.

But then Kiska stopped barking and the woods grew silent. “I thought, ‘Something’s changed; this is bad,” said Fitzgerald.

He was still about 25 feet from the rope swing when Fitzgerald glanced over his shoulder to see what was happening. “The bear was bounding up the trail after me,” he said, eyes wide as he acted out the scene three days later. “It was a whole different wave of emotion that washed over me. “I thought, ‘This is going to happen and this is going to hurt.’”

Fitzgerald was just about to the rope swing when he glanced over his shoulder again. The bear had stopped and was standing on all fours in the trail about 100 feet away, looking at Fitzgerald. “My neighbor’s house was only 100 yards up the hill and I said, ‘I’m going to get to his house,’” said Fitzgerald.

Once there, he tried to catch his breath. “I’ve never been that out of breath,” said Fitzgerald, a lean, fit guy who likes to bike and ski. “It felt like my lungs were going to bleed.” He listened for any noise that might indicate the bear was following him but heard nothing so he walked back to his house. He could hear Kiska barking in the driveway before he got there.

The dog acted uncharacteristically timid but was otherwise fine, said Fitzgerald. Even 45 minutes after the incident, when Fitzgerald and his neighbor, Craig Schumacher, went to retrieve Fitzgerald’s new bike armed with shotguns, Kiska stuck close by. “You had to sort of push her along,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald’s close encounter with a grizzly came on the heels of a grizzly sighting farther out Chena Hot Springs Road earlier the same evening. A lone grizzly was spotted at a house on the south side of the road around 8.1 Mile on Sunday at around 8 p.m. Grizzly tracks were also reported in a yard about a mile off road at 10.5 Mile the night before.

Wildlife biologist Don Young with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game isn’t sure what to make of the different sightings but he suspects they represent different bears. There was a sow grizzly and cub reported at the end of Peede Road in late April and that’s less than five miles from where Fitzgerald lives, he noted. There was also a report of a lone grizzly bear in the same vicinity — near the Chena River on Nordale Road — on Tuesday night, said Young.

Whatever the case may be, residents need to be bear aware, said Young. Anything that might attract a bear — garbage, dog food, charcoal grills, bird feeders, etc. — should be thrown away or secured where bears can’t get at it, he said. Though he never actually saw another bear, Fitzgerald is convinced he came between a sow and her cub. “Why wouldn’t that bear take one step and disappear (if it didn’t have a cub)?” said Fitzgerald.

As for Kiska, it marks the second time the friendly, tail-wagging, curly-haired retriever has played the part of hero. A few years ago Fitzgerald’s son and some friends were snowboarding in the yard when a moose walked into the driveway and charged the three boys, all of whom still had their feet strapped into their snowboards. Just as the moose was about to stomp one of the boys who was on the ground, a barking Kiska appeared and held the moose at bay, even as the moose was pawing at him, before it wandered off without doing any harm. A neighbor witnessed the whole thing, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald credits Kiska with saving his life this time. “If my dog had not tied up that bear for the few seconds, I don’t know what would have happened,” said Fitzgerald. “I think the dog saved my life.”



2007 Purina Animal Hall of Fame Inductee: Jango

Jango, the Unger family dog, normally splits her time between greeting customers at the family pet grooming business, and working as a therapy dog visiting the elderly in Trail, BC. But in the early hours of January 22, 2006, this brave Golden Retriever also took on the role of family saviour. Darrell's wife Christine was out for the evening, and so Darrell tucked four-year-old Koby into bed and settled down to relax in front of the television.

Darrell was awakened from a deep sleep on the couch at around 12:30 a.m. to ten year-old Jango's incessant barking. This was completely out of character, so Darrell immediately knew something was seriously wrong. Within seconds Darrell realized the house was filled with dark smoke, and ran as fast as he could to get the phone and his son's room, yelling for Koby to wake up. When he made it into the bedroom, he realized Koby was unconscious and Darrell himself was starting to fade.

Darrell got Koby out of his bunk bed and carried him outside, all with the sound and encouragement of Jango's constant barking directing Darrell, with Koby in arms, to safety. As Darrell and Koby burst outside, Constable Derek Gallon happened to be driving by and radioed for the fire department. The officer's own life was put in danger when he collapsed 30 feet into the house, attempting to bring back Darrell, who made a second trip into the blaze to rescue the family's two kittens. Thankfully the kittens were rescued by the fire department, and Darrell, Koby and Constable Gallon treated for smoke inhalation. Everyone has since recovered physically from the incident and are all doing well.

The Unger family lost virtually everything in the devastating fire; but they feel they owe the fact that they didn't lose their family to the good senses of Jango, for which they will be forever grateful.

Darrell and Christine own the Pet Needs Plus Grooming and Specialty Pet Supplies store in Trail, and Jango, affectionately called ‘Baby Love' by an ever-doting Koby, is the friendly greeter at the front of the store. She is well-known and well-loved in the community.

Proudly displayed on the wall of Darrell and Christine's store is a picture of Jango with the word “hero” written on it. But to the family she is more than a hero, she is their guardian angel.

Dogs, cat honoured for heroism
By Rick Eglinton, Toronto Star, May 7, 2007

... Another of the honoured pets was Jango, a Trail, B.C., golden retriever, who greets customers at her family’s pet grooming business and provides pet therapy to the elderly.

Last year in January, Darrell Unger woke up, a little annoyed, to Jango’s incessant barking. But a second later he remembered Jango doesn’t normally bark and realized his house was filling with smoke.

Unger raced to his son’s room to find that Koby, who was four at the time, was unconscious. He picked up the boy and navigated his way through the smoke-filled house by following Jango’s barking.

Once safely outside, Unger went back into the house to get the two family kittens. Const. Derek Gallon, who happened to be driving by and radioed the fire department, followed Unger inside and found him passed out.

Everyone was treated for smoke inhalation and even the two kittens were rescued.

“Me and my husband have three heroes,” said Christine Unger, who wasn’t home that fateful evening. “Jango is my first hero. My husband ... he saved our son’s life ... and Const. Gallon saved my husband’s life.”

Darrell Unger said that ever since the fire, which destroyed everything in the house, Jango has put on five or 10 pounds because there is no way he can deny his hero any treats. There was barely a dry eye in the crowd as everyone watched five-year-old Koby place the medal of honour on his pal, whom he now calls “babylove.”



Wonder dog is all golden: Woman claims pet pooch gave her the Heimlich

By Scott Goss, Cecil Whig, March 27, 2007

Debbie Parkhurst and her dog Toby, the 2-year-old golden retriever who she claims saved her life by performing a doggy version of the Heimlich, to dislodge a piece of apple stuck in her windpipe.

A Calvert woman claims her 2-year-old golden retriever saved her life Friday by giving her the canine version of the Heimlich maneuver. “The doctor said I probably wouldn’t be here without Toby,” said Debbie Parkhurst, 45, a jewelry artist who lives near Rising Sun High School with her husband, Kevin, and their two dogs. “I keep looking at him and saying ‘You’re amazing.’”

Parkhurst said she was home alone with the dogs Friday afternoon when she decided to snack on an apple. Suddenly, she said, a chunk of the fruit became wedged in her windpipe. “It was lodged pretty tight because I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I tried to do the thing where you lean over a chair and give yourself the Heimlich, but it didn’t work.”

Parkhurst said she then began beating her chest, an action that might have attracted Toby’s attention. “The next think I know, Toby’s up on his hind feet and he’s got his front paws on my shoulders,” she recalled. “He pushed me to the ground, and once I was on my back, he began jumping up and down on my chest.”

Toby’s jumping apparently managed to dislodge the apple from Parkhurst’s windpipe. “As soon as I started breathing, he stopped and began licking my face, as if to keep me from passing out,” she said. A friend soon arrived and, after witnessing the canine rescue, drove Parkhurst to the doctor’s office.

“I, literally, have pawprint-shaped bruises on my chest,” Parkhurst said. “I’m still a little hoarse, but otherwise, I’m OK.”

At first, Parkhurst thought Toby was simply trying to play. Now she believes the golden retriever that she and her husband rescued from a Dumpster knew exactly what he was doing. “I know it sounds a little weird, but I think he had a sense of what was happening,” Parkhurst said Monday. “Of all the dogs in the world, I never would have expected this goofy one here to know the Heimlich.”

As strange as Parkhurst’s story might sound, Toby’s actions actually followed the emergency measures recommended for choking victims by the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. Both agencies recommend first aid responders use a series of five back blows followed by a series of five abdominal thrusts, otherwise known as the “five and five.”

“I have no idea where he learned it from,” Parkhurst said. “But can tell you that I’m going to peel and mash my apples from now on.”



Breast cancer led to self-discovery

By Patricia Norris, The Republican, November 1, 2006

GRANBY - Each night when Nancy A. Engelbrecht lay down to sleep, her lumbering golden retriever would drop his paw on her right breast.

What's the matter, Ben? Do you want to go out? But Ben would not stop. "After about a month of this, I investigated. I was starting to feel sore there and that is when I found the lump," she said. Engelbrecht, a 44-year-old radiation therapist at the Sister Caritas Cancer Center at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, knew the warning signs of breast cancer. Now she was living them.

A biopsy confirmed Engelbrecht's worst fear but it also led her on a fortuitous path of self-discovery and activism. Now Engelbrecht helps patients by sharing her experience and encourages others who are cancer-free to do self-breast exams as she believes Ben's paw was prodding her to do all along. "I don't really care who knows I have cancer," she said.

The dog, one of Engelbrecht's seven, stopped pawing at her once the lumpectomy removed her tumor. "I was meant to go through everything I am going through," said Engelbrecht, her hair slowly growing back after several rounds of chemotherapy. "I can't quite explain it." Although Engelbrecht, a married mother of two, does not make light of her cancer, she has made peace with it.

The Granby woman who was used to helping others obliterate cancer cells with radiation for countless patients for more than a decade, nearly lost her breath when her oncologist said, "cancer." Her brain scurried down a list of survival odds she knew well but had up until now applied them to other people's life spans. "I wanted to be able to see my two daughters, 16 and 12 grow up," she said. "But I knew cancers in young women are very aggressive. I was petrified and for about a week I was paralyzed."

Engelbrecht said she prayed with her doctor Steve Allen, who asked God to work through him and help Engelbrecht heal. "I felt a wave of peace wash over me," Engelbrecht said.

Engelbrecht continued working, at first afraid to show patients her bald head because she did not want to scare them. But a wig, when she was without her own voluminous blonde hair, did not feel right either. So Engelbrecht donned a baseball cap and walked out into the waiting room to call her patients. "When I saw her I said, 'Oh no, not you too,'" said Rosemary Landino, a Brimfield patient who became a friend.

But Engelbrecht's bald head had a therapeutic effect. Wearing cancer on her sleeves enabled other patients to speak freely about their fears and hopes. "They feel like I know their scary feelings," she said.

Engelbrecht knows the effects of chemotherapy can make you think you left the phone in the refrigerator. She knows it actually hurts when your hair falls out in clumps from your scalp. But sometimes Engelbrecht became the student.

Patients gave her tips on what to eat or drink when feeling nauseous, for example. They made her cards and one patient decorated an exam gown in super woman motif. "I don't feel I am cured," Engelbrecht said now that chemotherapy and radiation are over. "But I know I have done everything that I need to do." She relies on her faith and the tiny messages like Ben's persistence that come with it, she said.

By all medical accounts her cancer should have spread to her lymph nodes but they didn't. "There are no coincidences," she said.



Dog saves family of three from Gilroy fire

Bay City News Service, December 21, 2006

A family dog is being hailed as a heroine today after she alerted her owner that a neighbor's house was on fire, saving the family from certain death, Gilroy Fire Department Division Chief Clay Bentson said.

Around 1:40 a.m. the neighbor awoke to his golden retriever, Meg, frantically barking. Thinking the dog needed a walk, the man took her outside and saw fire running up the wall of his neighbor's house at 9115 Cresthill Court.

After calling 911, the man pounded on the neighbor's door, awakening the three residents, Bentson said.

Firefighters from the Gilroy Fire Department arrived at the home at 1:54 a.m. and had the fire controlled by 3:58 a.m. but not before the fire had reached three alarms and destroyed about three-quarters of the house, the garage and two cars, Bentson said. He estimated the cost of the damage to be around $400,000.

A misplaced smoke detector did not alert the residents, who said the house was filled with smoke from ceiling to floor, he said.

The smoke detector was located in the hallway instead of in the bedroom as new codes require, he said.

The fire is believed to have started from ashes that were in a garbage can against the side of the garage, he said.

``That dog saved their lives, there is no doubt in my mind,'' he said of Meg. She ``is definitely a hero.''

A misplaced smoke detector did not alert the residents, who said the house was filled with smoke from ceiling to floor, he said.

The smoke detector was located in the hallway instead of in the bedroom as new codes require, he said.



Dog Saves Toledo Woman's Life in Bitter Cold
Story and Video Provided By: WTOL Raycom Media

  Click here to see a video with Maddie and Mom.

This recent bitter cold weather could have killed a Toledo woman, but she had a guardian angel on four legs. Her dog saved her life.

Sam Good has something called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy that affects the nerves and muscles in her body. It sparks painful seizures through her body. "It's like Restless Legs Syndrome times 100 and it's through your spine," said Good.

Good told us she was getting ready for bed last week with nothing more than her pajamas on and decided to turn out the lights on her unheated back porch. She said the cold ignited another seizure and she fell onto her loveseat. "I was in a ball and I got in a ball because I knew I was going to freeze," Good explained. "I thought I was going to freeze to death because I couldn't get words out," she added.

Temperatures at the time were in the teens.

In the seat, in intense pain, Good says she was finally able to call out Maddie's name quietly by human standards, but plenty-loud for a dog. "She keeps picking my arm up and picking my arm up," said Good while re-enacting the event. "And I'm like, 'Maddie, I can't.'"

"And she just put her back under my belly and kept lifting and lifting," demonstrated Good. At that point, Good says she could barely get her arms around the dog's neck. "She had to keep lifting me onto her back to get the rest of me because I was numb... my spine... I didn't feel anything."

The 104-pound Golden Retriever carried Good on her back, dragging Good to her bed inside. Good was still hurting but was warm and eventually the seizures subsided. If it wasn't for Maddie's rescue? "I'd been froze," Good pointedly told us.

She also said Maddie isn't just her best friend, "she's the best dog ever."



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