Dog Performs Heimlich on Choking Owner

You might think someone got into the catnip here, no, but you read that right…A Maryland newspaper reported that forty-five-year-old Debbie Parkhurst was enjoying an apple at home when a piece got lodged in her throat. She attempted the Heimlich maneuver on herself to no avail. Luckily, as Debbie frantically beat on her chest, Toby, her two-year-old Golden Retriever, leaped into action. Like any self-respecting young retriever, Toby jumped up, put his front paws on Debbie’s shoulders, knocked her to the ground, then began to jump up and down on her chest. (Trainers, insert collective cringe here.) Lo and behold, the apple dislodged! Toby then began licking Debbie’s face “to keep her from passing out,” as she said. Never mind that Toby had slammed into her so hard that Debbie had pawprint-shaped bruises on her chest—he’d saved her life!

That story reminds me of another that was reported a few years back. A man was out in the woods with his dogs. They were standing in a clearing when a bear appeared and began to attack the man. According to the man, one of his dogs saved his life by “luring the bear away” toward the dense forest. Not jumped in front of him, but ran toward the woods. Now, call me cynical, but I’m guessing the dog’s thought process was less "I must lure this beast away to save my master!" than it was "Bear! Run!"

Allow me to add my own story of a dog’s response to a human in distress. One icy winter day, I slipped while walking down the ramp that covers the steps leading out from our back door (the ramp was for Soko, our German Shepherd, who had hip dysplasia). I slammed into the ground hard, and in an unfortunate position—I was pretty sure I’d broken my ankle. I was clearly in distress, crying in pain, unable to stand. Now, here’s where you might imagine that my loyal Shepherd saved the day. Did Soko run for help? Grab the phone and pound out 911 with her paw? Whimper in concern and cover me with her body ’til help could arrive? Hah! She ran and got her ball, dropped it at my feet, and looked at me as if to say, "So are ya gonna get up and play or what?" Hmm… Perhaps she had cleverly calculated that since I always stand when throwing the ball, her actions would magically help me become healed and upright again. Uh…no. Trust me, I have no delusions as to her intent. I loved that dog, but Lassie she was not.

Did Debbie Parkhurst’s dog really intend to save her life, or were his actions due to excitement, perhaps combined with a serendipitous lack of training? Did the dog in the woods selflessly place his own life at risk, or was he simply high-tailing it to safety? You can guess the answers from a behavioral standpoint. So, okay, the owners’ perception of their dogs’ actions might not be realistic, but the bond between them is surely as real as it gets. Turns out Debbie had rescued Toby from a dumpster as a pup, so maybe they saved each other. And perhaps the belief that these dogs saved their owners’ lives isn’t so far-fetched after all—because in the big picture, on an emotional level, dogs really can save our lives.

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