Canine Heroics Starting to Sound Fishy


Solomon and Scooter are not earning their keep according to some of the incredible stories being related on the news these days.  I grew up with Rin Tin Tin and Lassie as my two favorite dog heroes — so I am certainly open to the possibility of dogs performing some fantastic rescues.  But this latest sensational account of someone’s pet pooch performing the complicated Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a stuck food particle stretches my imagination beyond the limits.  OK, we have had dogs and cats dialing "911" for assistance, we have them running next door to bring back assistance… but now we have them performing medical procedures on demand?!

Let’s review some of the recorded incidents leading up to last week’s event:

First came the stray German shepherd in south Georgia who pulled a stranger from her wrecked car and dragged her 50 yards to safety.

Then came Velvet, a Labrador mix who rescue workers credited with saving the lives of her owner and two other stranded climbers on Oregon’s icy Mount Hood.

A month later, Gandalf, a Shiloh shepherd on his first rescue mission, made headlines when he located a 12-year-old boy who’d been missing for four days from his Scout troop’s campsite in the mountains of North Carolina.If those weren’t dog heroes enough for the first three months of the year, this past week Toby came to the rescue — a golden retriever whose Cecil County owner says he saved her from choking to death on a piece of apple by administering what amounted to the Heimlich maneuver.

What’s next, a Chihuahua conducting a coronary bypass?

Dogs can do some heroic things (though they don’t perceive them as such). They can be trained to find and rescue the lost, help the disabled and even assist in medical emergencies. The Heimlich maneuver, though, is not one of them.

"On the surface of things, dogs just do what their instinct tells them," said Lorna Coppinger, author, with her husband, Ray, of Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution.

"This one may have seen or sensed that his owner was stressed and jumped up on her, and maybe that dislodged the food, but I wouldn’t ascribe to the dog any conscious intent to perform a medical procedure. The story is wonderful, though; she should have a good time with it."

Debbie Parkhurst, the 45-year-old jewelry maker who says her dog saved her life, did not immediately return calls from The Sun, but according to the Cecil Whig, she was considering invitations to appear on Late Show with David Letterman and Good Morning America.

She said that a hunk of apple got wedged in her windpipe Friday, and when she began beating her chest to dislodge it, Toby jumped on her, knocking her to the ground.

"Once I was on my back, he began jumping up and down on my chest," she told the Whig. "As soon as I started breathing, he stopped and began licking my face, as if to keep me from passing out."

After the incident, Parkhurst said a friend drove her to an unidentified doctor.

The dog as hero is a long-familiar theme, in literature, entertainment and history — from the 1950s-era novel Old Yeller and TV show Rin Tin Tin to modern-day movie canines such as Airbud and a newly revived Lassie. Dogs served as messengers for American troops in World War I and in every conflict since. They were honored for "heroic" efforts after Sept. 11 and again during Hurricane Katrina.

But, based on the literature and the experts, a dog performing the Heimlich maneuver is new turf.

I realized when I didn’t send Scooter to Obedience School I was limiting his usefulness.  But these latest recorded exploits show me how low my expectations have been for my sports-watching lapdog.  I’m not sure Scooter is heavy enough to effectively perform the Heimlich Maneuver… but maybe there are other medical procedures that would suit his finesse and small frame.  Then again if Solomon tried the Heimlich Maneuver I think I would prefer my chances with the choking alternative.