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Man's Best Friends

True Stories of the World’s Most Heroic Dogs

John McShane

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Heartwarming, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting stories of heroic dogs rescuing men, women and children around the world!

Countless dogs have risked or sacrificed their lives to protect the people they care for. Their intelligence, devotion and courage defy belief. Man’s Best Friends shines a spotlight on soldier and service dogs, who protect and defend, often against great odds and at great peril, as well as the furry family members who would do anything to save the people they love in moments of crisis.

These are inspiring and captivating stories of canine bravery, heroism and loyalty from around the world: from a military dog that discovered a German spy in World War I, to a guide dog that led a blind man to safety in the World Trade Center an hour after the attack on September 11, to an Australian cattle dog that rescued an 85-year-old Floridian woman from an alligator attack, to a yellow lab that learned how to use an ATM on behalf of a disabled veteran.

From daring rescue attempts to simple acts of kindness, Man’s Best Friends celebrates and reaffirms the unbreakable bond between Man and his Best Friend through these remarkably told and beautifully moving stories.

John McShane is the author of Didier Drogba: Portrait of a HeroHeath Ledger: His Beautiful Life and Susan Boyle: Living the Dream, among other books. He lives in London, England.

August 2017
5 x 8 | 288 pages | 8-page color photo insert
Paperback $14.95 | CAN $20.50
978-1-944713-23-2

The German Shepherd That Saved a Soldier’s Life in Iraq

Military dogs help soldiers in many ways. When Specialist Joaquin Mello was shot at in Iraq, his German shepherd, Sgt. Bodo, saved his life. “If Bodo hadn’t pulled me back, it would have hit me right in the head,” said Mello.

We’re happy to share a touching exclusive preview from Man’s Best Friends: True Stories of the World’s Most Heroic Dogs by John McShane, which Overamstel published this week.

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Getty Images

A military German shepherd saved his owner’s life in a remarkable manner while on a routine mission near Najaf, Iraq. Specialist Joaquin Mello of the 98th Military Police Company, K-9 handler, from Santa Cruz, California, will never forget the day when his working dog—Sgt. Bodo, a six-year-old explosives detection German shepherd—came to his aid. Recalling his brush with death, he admitted: “It scared the crap out of me! I started thinking about it and I was like, Wow, my dog just saved my life! It was a scary moment for me, like the war actually hit me—the war became real in that moment.”

Mello and an Air Force K-9 handler went on a route-clearing mission near the town of Najaf, and following this, he and the airman were asked to clear some suspicious piles of rubble around the convoy. He and the other handler split the area into two sections: Mello cleared in front of the convoy, while the airman cleared behind. After exiting their mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, they began clearing the piles. As they searched, Bodo began acting peculiarly.

“I had Bodo on the retractable leash and while we were searching, he started to get a little bit behind me, so I tried to coach him ahead of me but he wouldn’t go and I ended up getting in front of him,” said Mello. “He was showing great change in his behavior.” Mello bent over with his head close to the ground and ordered Bodo to seek, but Bodo refused to listen and Mello soon learned why.

“All of a sudden he jerked sharply behind me and him jerking the leash jerked my head up,” said Mello. “I heard a whiz and a loud ping, like metal hitting rock. Sand started kicking up in my face and I’m waving my hands because I can’t see, because I have dust in my eyes. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: someone just shot at me.”

When the gunners realized what had happened, they yelled at Mello to get in their vehicle. Dazed, and with sand in his eyes, Mello received help to get inside from a fellow soldier. Once inside, he was asked where he thought the round had come from, but he told them he didn’t know, that he hadn’t heard the shot.

“That was a scary day for me—the bullet was only a foot or so in front of my head,” he recalled. “If Bodo hadn’t pulled me back, it would have hit me right in the head.” And he attributed Bodo’s prompt actions that day to the dog’s keen sense of hearing. “He can hear things we can’t. He will hear things before I hear them, too—he lifts his head up, his ears perk up,” said Mello. “It’s possible he did hear the round and thought, Dad’s in trouble and pulled me back. It’s not important to me how he did it—all I know is Bodo, without a doubt, saved my life that day.”

When Mello returned to his unit, the leadership asked if he wanted to be nominated for a Combat Action Badge, but he said no. “I’m not wounded or anything,” he said. “I didn’t do anything spectacular, I just did my job—Bodo is the one who did something amazing.”

The Guide Dog That Saved a Man on 9/11

If it weren’t for his guide dog, Roselle, Michael Hingson would have died on September 11.

Overamstel is publishing Man’s Best Friends: True Stories of the World’s Most Heroic Dogs by John McShane on August 15. The book features heartwarming, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting stories of heroic dogs rescuing men, women and children around the world. We’re happy to share a touching exclusive preview about how a guide dog led a man to safety on September 11.

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Michael Hingson and Roselle (Getty Images)

On the morning of September 11, Michael Hingson and a coworker, David Frank, were preparing for a meeting in their offices at a software company in World Trade Center Tower One. At 8:45 am, they heard a muffled explosion and the building began to tip forward some 20 feet before tipping backward 20 feet, followed by a drop of about 6 feet.

“Have you ever been in a building when somebody in the floor above you drops an incredibly heavy object? That’s the best way I could describe what it sounded like. It was more of a thud than a catastrophic hit—it was not deafening by any means,” said Hingson. He thought it must be an earthquake. “The building was acting like a huge spring—it did everything it was supposed to do.” Above was the sound of falling debris and paper. “We gotta get out of here right now! There’s fire and smoke above us,” Frank told his colleague.

“David was panicking a bit,” Hingson recalled, “which was completely understandable given the circumstances, but I told him to calm down and said there’s procedures for doing [an evacuation of the building]. We had been trained very well to do building evacuations, so I told David to tell people to go to the stairwells and proceed downstairs. What I did immediately was call my wife and told her, “Something happened at the building, I’ll call you later.”’

Hingson would talk at length in a series of interviews and public speaking engagements about what happened next, even going on to write a book. Meanwhile, he instructed his colleague to slow down. The reason for his reaction was that he had “a piece of information.” His guide dog Roselle wasn’t showing any signs of concern.

“She didn’t do anything until the building stopped swaying,” he explained. “She had come out from underneath my desk and shook herself, just like any dog would who was stretching. She had been awakened from a nap. I knew from her reaction that at that point in time it was possible for us to evacuate safely.

“While everything was happening—the explosion, the burning debris, the people in the conference room screaming—Roselle sat next to me, as calm as ever. She didn’t sense any danger in the smoke and flames, everything happening around us. If she had sensed danger, she would have acted differently but she didn’t. Roselle and I were a team and I trusted her.”

Giving Roselle the customary command “forward,” they left the office and headed for Stairway B and the 1,463 steps that would lead them to safety. “Roselle stayed calm, even with things falling on top of her, and she guided me through the debris,” said Michael. When the two entered the stairwell, Hingson immediately recognized the odor of jet fuel. They assumed it was a plane and they were on the side of the building opposite the one that had been hit; that was all he knew as the two made their way down the stairs from the 78th floor.

“There’s no other smell like it, jet fuel burning, so we—David and I—deduced an airplane had hit the building. Why it hit, we didn’t know, so we made our way to the stairwell and Roselle was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing—leading me down. To her, it was just a nice walk.”

At this point there were people in the stairwell, though not huge crowds. It was quiet and orderly, with very little panic. However, Hingson and his colleague knew that the way the stairwells were constructed, they were probably safer there than anywhere else. Suddenly they heard a voice saying, “Burn victim coming through!” Michael pressed himself to the side, nudging Roselle close to his legs. He asked David what he saw and he told him that it was a woman so badly burnt she didn’t look human anymore. Michael knew he had to stay calm for his dog or she would feel his anxiety and then become more concerned about him than finding the way out. Then came the second wounded person. David told him that she was worse than the first—she was still in shock and walked like a zombie, her eyes staring straight ahead. The woman’s clothes were partially burnt off, her skin blistered and separating. Her blonde hair was covered in grey slime.

At this point, one woman said she couldn’t make it. Everyone gave her a group hug and told her she could do it. Michael said, “It told me how much we as a race want to work as a team. Our instinct was that we had to get out and prevent panic and encourage everyone to go—we have to be a team. It was tense, but not panic.” He also knew that he had to devote his attentions to Roselle and talk to her in a confident manner so that she would know he was all right. “I told her she was doing a great job.”

David Frank went on ahead, almost as though he were a scout, and on the 30th floor he announced that the firefighters were on their way up. The firefighters were concerned about Michael and offered to have someone accompany him the rest of the way down; he declined. Some of the group offered to help the firefighters upstairs with their equipment, but their offer was declined. “Your job is to go down, and our job is to go up,” they told the office workers.

“They went up, never to be seen again,” said Michael. Even at such a moment the brave firefighters took the time to pet Roselle and get “kisses” from her. “That was the last unconditional love those folks got,” Hingson added.

On the 20th floor, the floors became slippery with water from sprinklers. “I was worried in case Roselle slipped and I needed to be aware of her every move,” he continued. It had only taken 20 minutes to reach the 30th floor but after that, progress slowed. “By the sixth floor, I needed to get out. My legs were about to give way and I wanted to call my wife, Karen.”

At one point, the people in the line heading downwards told him to go ahead of them because he was blind. He refused and argued to keep his place in line but they insisted. With Roselle and David, he made his way slowly to the bottom, reaching the ground floor almost 60 minutes later. Finally, they got to the lobby—a war zone filled with firefighters and FBI agents, all helping survivors.

“The descent had taken an hour, almost exactly,” Michael continued. “David looked up and said there was a fire in Tower Two, up high. We were confused and could only assume that the fire had jumped across. I tried to phone my wife but still couldn’t get through. I learned later that this was due to all the people still trapped, calling loved ones to say goodbye.”

“Get away, she’s coming down!” a police officer suddenly screamed. “I heard the sound of glass breaking, of metal twisting and terrified screams,” Michael said. “I will never forget the sound as long as I live.’

The men decided to make their way to a parking lot across from Tower Two, where David had parked his car. Hingson explained, “David decided to take a couple of pictures of our building with a digital camera he had, and just as he was putting his camera away, we heard this roar and heard the dust cloud getting louder and louder and louder, and we knew a building was coming down. You couldn’t see it—it was literally solid dust.”

The two men and Roselle began to run. Dust was everywhere and so thick that everyone was blinded. A woman nearby cried out that she couldn’t see anything—her eyes were caked with dust. Hingson grabbed her and told her to come with them. Roselle guided them through the choking cloud as they inhaled what was left of Tower Two. They ran towards an entrance for a subway station, descended to a locker room for subway employees and sat there in the dust. Hingson estimates that ten minutes later, a police officer came down and told them the air had cleared and they should leave. They came up and began to make their way away from the area. Then they heard a further roar: another dust cloud was approaching.

“And David looked back,” said Hingson, “and said, ‘Oh my God, the second tower’s gone!’” The second tower was their building. It was 10:30 am. “David was shaken when he saw the destruction,” adds Hingson. “What he saw, I can only imagine.”

That evening, Michael made it home to his wife, and he and Roselle subsequently became celebrities, owing to their escape and the dog’s role. The pair appeared on television shows and at public events. Michael, blind from birth, even became a full-time worker for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Meet Chips, Odin and Aryn, Brave German Shepherds Featured in Man’s Best Friends

Overamstel is publishing Man’s Best Friends: True Stories of the World’s Most Heroic Dogs by John McShane on August 15. The book features heartwarming, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting stories of heroic dogs rescuing men, women and children around the world. We’re happy to share an exclusive preview from the chapter about German shepherds, one of the best breeds for police and military work due to their strength, intelligence and excellence in obedience training. Keep checking our website each week for more inspiring dog stories!

Obi and his police handler were bombarded with bottles, bricks and bombs while on the frontline in the London street riots. Obi received an Animal Bravery Award in 2011. (Getty Images)

Obi, a police dog, received an Animal Bravery Award in 2011. (Getty Images)

The dogs featured in this book come in all shapes and sizes, ages and temperaments. Often they have been bred for varying tasks in different climates, yet all show an enduring fondness for the human race. And although it might at first seem invidious to single out certain breeds, there are some who perhaps merit a specific mention without in any way detracting from the qualities of all.

The German shepherd (also called “Alsatian” at one time when anti-German feelings ran high) is one such breed. A comparatively modern breed, dating back to the end of the nineteenth century, the dog was originally bred to guard and herd sheep, although it eventually became recognized as one of the best breeds for police and military work due to its strength and intelligence linked with its excellence in obedience training. Homeowners and businesses also discovered the Deutscher Schäferhund (literally “German shepherd hound”) made an ideal companion and guard.

Chips was one of the first dogs to serve overseas with the Military Police in World War II, where he was under the supervision of his handler, Private John P. Rowell. In addition to patrol duty with the infantry, he was posted to sentry duty in Casablanca during the January 1943 conference between the American and British leaders, Roosevelt and Churchill. Through eight campaigns across Europe, he was also a POW guard and tank guard dog.

Just before dawn one morning in July that year, General George Patton’s Seventh Army hit the beach in Sicily. Under a deafening naval bombardment, soldiers scrambled through waves and incoming fire to hug the sand. “Operation Husky” was the largest amphibious invasion of the war at that time, when more than 160,000 troops went ashore. Chips was among them.

At 4:20 am on July 10, with the sky softening over Sicily’s southern coast, Chips and his handler pushed inland from the beach. As man and dog approached a hut, it erupted with machine-gun fire. All the soldiers hit the ground, but Chips broke free and, trailing his leash, sprinted towards the hut. Moments later, an Italian soldier staggered out, with Chips tearing at his arms and throat. Behind him were several other soldiers, their arms up. Chips’s handler called him off and seized the prisoners. But Chips had not come through unscathed: he had a small scalp wound. Powder burns on his coat suggested the enemy had fired at him point-blank, but he had taken the machine-gun nest. Later that day he helped his handler capture ten more prisoners. Soon he was hailed across America. Unlike other military heroes, however, Chips showed no respect for rank. When Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to pet him, he nipped the General’s hand!

For his actions during the war, Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star for bravery and a Purple Heart for wounds received in action. On November 19, 1943, he was presented with the medals in a churchyard ceremony in Pietravairano, Italy. An excerpt from the citation reads:

For a special brand of courage arising from love of master and duty. Chips’s courageous act, single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine-gun nest, reflects the highest credit on himself and the military service.

The awards were later taken away due to an army policy preventing official commendation of animals. Chips had also broken the rules when he left his handler’s side. But his unit took matters into their own hands and unofficially awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for an assault landing and Battlestars for each of his eight campaigns.

In December 1945, Chips was discharged from the military and returned home to the Wren family. Sadly, he died just seven months later at the relatively young age of six due to complications from injuries sustained during the war. He was buried in the Peaceable Kingdom Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. So remarkable were his exploits, though, that in 1990, Disney even based a TV movie around his life and deeds, aptly titled Chips the War Dog.

Such is the bravery of the German shepherd that often their courage is almost taken for granted. Take the case of Odin, who seemed unafraid even of bullets. It was nearly midnight in early March 2004 when Constable Bill Dodd and Odin got the call that Calgary Police Service had spotted a car parking at the rear of a suspected drug dealer’s house. When Dodd and his police dog investigated, two suspects fled from the car.

One man was caught, but in the struggle that followed the other man fired a handgun, narrowly missing one of the officers. The suspected drug dealer then fled on foot into the darkness of the neighborhood. There was no snow on the ground, no easy footprint trail to follow, so officers called for canine and tactical squad backup.

Constable Dodd and his police dog, Odin, were alerted to an infrared hot spot detected on the ground by the police helicopter. Now it was a matter of finding the suspect in the dark before further shots were fired: already the man had shown he was willing to use deadly force. Odin began to track the scent as Constable Dodd held him on a 30-foot line. The 90 lb. police dog went through an opening in a fence then suddenly started pulling hard on the leash. Constable Dodd knew his dog had located the suspect, so he called other officers to the site.

The tactical team shined flashlight beams over the yard, but it was difficult to pick out the suspect. Odin strained at the leash, eager to finish the job. Constable Dodd knew his companion couldn’t be left exposed as a potential target, so he released the line. At that moment, the man jumped up and raised his handgun. Before he could fire, however, the brave police dog had jumped on him, knocking the gun from his hand. In an instant, he had the suspect on the ground. Police swarmed the scene and handcuffed him. Both Constable Dodd and Odin, his partner of six years, received commendations for their actions that night.

There are countless stories about the nerve and tenacity of German shepherds but perhaps the tale of Aryn, who took two bullets in the line of duty, sums up the characteristics of this marvelous breed. When laid to rest in Oak Rest Pet Gardens, in Bethlehem, Georgia, it was in a ceremony befitting a fallen hero. Aryn had retired as a decorated K-9, surviving to live out the rest of his days with his handler, Cpl. Mike Waddell, and his family. K-9 units from all over the area came to pay their respects.

A police honor guard passed an estimated 150 officers carrying a flag-draped coffin of the German shepherd, who had faithfully served the Gwinnett County, Georgia, police department for seven years. The 11-year-old retired dog (who died in 2007) was credited with saving the lives of his handler and other officers in gun battle with a double-homicide suspect, three years earlier.

“It’s good to see how everyone came together for something like this,” said Police Sgt. Henry Schotter. “Any day a dog could be called to a situation, like Aryn was—we depend on them to protect us and the community.”

Aryn earned his hero designation on January 13, 2004, during a shootout with a double-murder suspect, when he took bullets meant for his handler and other officers. They were in dense woods chasing a suspect, who police said had murdered two men. As Waddell dropped the leash to unholster his gun, Aryn rushed the suspect and was shot in the chest and leg. He survived but was forced to retire, and he remained the Waddell family pet until his death.

For his role in the shootout, Aryn received a host of departmental commendations, including two Medals of Valor and a Purple Heart. He was also named a Gwinnett County Officer of the Year and given lifetime membership to the Fraternal Order of Police.

Waddell didn’t speak during the funeral service but remained seated with his wife, daughter and other family members in a gazebo next to the bier that held Aryn’s small white coffin. A fellow Gwinnett officer read his words: “Thank you, buddy, for saving my life. I and all of my family and many, many others will truly miss you.”

In his written farewell, Waddell wrote of how heartbroken he felt each time he would dress for work and Aryn did his “happy dance,” thinking he was going to work, too: “Even though his body told him he physically couldn’t do it anymore, his mind and heart never told him no.”