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Animal heroes: Tails of the unexpected

Animal heroes: Tails of the unexpected

We have a powerful connection with our four-legged friends—but did you ever imagine an animal could save your life? We meet the creatures who’ve gone far beyond the call of duty.

Giant rats save thousands of humans

Rat on leash

Belgian organisation APOPO is training giant African pouched rats to detect two of Africa’s cruellest menaces.

The first is landmines. When civilians have to risk their lives just to fetch water or farm their land, development is impossible. Wanting to find a local, affordable solution, APOPO founder Bart Weetjens remembered the pet rodents he’d kept as a boy in Belgium. He knew rats were intelligent, sociable, in plentiful supply and relatively cheap to train. 

APOPO’s heroic rats are also on the front line against Africa’s desperate TB crisis, where clinics are overwhelmed and diagnostic TB tests often inaccurate. 

Since 2007, the rats have detected over 56,000 landmines and there hasn’t been a single casualty.

They’ve also screened almost 312,000 TB samples and detected over 8,000 cases that the public clinics missed. While it takes a lab technician all day to evaluate 20 samples, a rat can get it done in just ten minutes.


Bailey rescues children from fire

bailey dog

Within an hour of leaving for work, Chantelle Lister's family home in Kettering, Northampton-shire, went up in flames. The fire started in the conservatory and lethal smoke from the uPVC windows started filling the ground floor while  her daughters Loren and Mollie, 17 and six, and 11-year-old son Charlie were still asleep in bed.

Thankfully, the family’s beloved dog Bailey rushed to their rescue. Despite the thick smoke, the four-year-old Terrier-made his way upstairs and kept barking at Loren’s door until she awoke. 

Struggling to breathe, the teenager ran into her siblings’ room and managed to get the terrified children out through a bedroom window and onto a flat roof.

After successfully raising the alarm, Bailey scampered back downstairs to try to get out. But tragically he was trapped in the burning house. 

“The firemen pulled Bailey out and tried to resuscitate him, but he was dead,” says Chantelle. “They put a blanket over him and I kept thinking, That could have been one of my children. Bailey was such a character and so loving. The children wouldn’t be here without him—he’s my hero and I’m eternally grateful to him.” 


Kerry gallops to the rescue


On a bright July day Fiona Boyd, a cattle expert for over 20 years, decided to move one of her cows and her calf out of the field.

“You have to separate the mothers from their calves when they’re very young. It sounds horrible, but this is what happens on a dairy farm,” she told a reporter.

She started to walk across the field behind the calf, expecting the mother to follow happily. But when the two-day-old calf started to bleat, its protective mother charged at Fiona.

“With her head she butted my shoulder, knocking me to the ground,” she recalls. “The cow, 600kg and angry, was intent on attacking me. I was screaming, but there was no one around to hear me. Terrified, all I could do was curl up into a ball.”

But then Kerry Gold, Fiona’s chestnut mare, galloped over from the other side of the field and began kicking the cow with her back hooves. “The cow left and Kerry stood protectively beside me.”

Fiona was left with cuts, bruises and a tender back. “I’ve no doubt that Kerry saved me from being killed.”


Pippa makes the purr-fect night nurse


We’re a nation of cat lovers but, they’re hardly known for acts of altruism. So meet Pippa, an extremely unusual feline.

The black-and-white cat was rehomed by the RSPCA to the Jansa family in Whitstable, Kent. They were charmed but never guessed she’d become a lifesaver.

Eight-year-old Mia Jansa had type one diabetes and tested her blood throughout the day, as well as having something to eat or drink to restore her blood-sugar levels. But the danger was at night.

Mia was prone to having hypoglycaemic episodes when asleep and, left untreated, a hypo can lead to a coma, medical complications and even death.

Soon after she was adopted, Pippa went into Mia’s bedroom in the middle of the night and woke her up. When the child tested her blood-sugar levels, she found they were dangerously low. Ever since, Pippa regularly visits Mia at night. And if she can’t get her to wake up, she raises the alarm. 

“Pippa does this of her own accord,” says Pippa’s mother Laura. “We don’t reward her with food because we don’t want to encourage false alarms, but she gets plenty of cuddles instead. It gives me extra peace of mind to know someone else is keeping an eye on Mia.”


You can read the full article in the November issue of Reader's Digest. Subscribe here