Miracles happen every day. Through acts of selflessness, strength and determination, ordinary individuals can become superheroes, even those with four paws. In this excerpt from Newsweek's special edition, Amazing Miracles, meet the heroic animals that risked their lives to save the day. Their stories continue to amaze, inspire and restore hope in our hearts.
SCARLETT THE CAT
There aren’t many cats that can claim they’ve had a book written about them. But a bedtime story is just one example of the outpouring of admiration that was directed toward Scarlett, a calico cat, after she braved flames five times to rescue her newborn kittens.
It all began in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996. Scarlett was a stray and had been living with her small litter in a crumbling garage that was widely thought to be a crack den. One day, a blaze broke out that quickly began to consume the building. Sensing the danger, Scarlett sprang into action. One by one, she picked up her kittens and scampered to safety. As the fire grew up around her, the flames licked at her fur. By the time the fire department arrived, Scarlett was so badly burned that she had lost all of the hair on her face. But the cat marched on with her mission. By the time Scarlett had gotten all five of her kittens out of the blaze, her eyes had blistered shut so badly, she had to nudge each of their noses to make sure they were safe.
The firefighters on the scene quickly rushed mother and litter to the North Shore Animal League, where vets feared Scarlett might never recover from her injuries. Luckily, she did. As word began to get out about her heroism, support poured in from across the globe. Scarlett had displayed the kind of selflessness only a mother would, putting her babies above all else. The League received thousands of letters offering their homes and their hearts, before Scarlett eventually found a family with Karen Wellen.
TARA THE CAT
Erica Triantafilo had only turned her back to water her plants for a moment when she heard screams. Her 4-year-old son, Jeremy, was playing on his tricycle in their yard. What neither mother nor child had noticed was the next door neighbor’s dog. Hiding behind a parked car, the dog quietly stalked young Jeremy before darting in to attack. The whole moment was caught on CCTV camera as the canine clamped its jaws around the toddler’s tiny leg. Hearing her son’s cries, Erica Triantafilo sprinted toward the dog in desperation. But before she could reach them, the family’s cat, Tara, barreled into the dog with such force that he released Jeremy.
Cowed in the face of the protective cat’s bravery, the dog turned tail to flee. But Tara was not satisfied. Hissing and spitting, she chased the dog out of the yard. Later, when Jeremy spoke to local news, he praised his pet: “Tara is my hero.” Who knows how much damage the dog, who was later put down by the police, would have done had Tara not been on hand to save the day?
LULU THE PIG
Jo Ann Altsman was enjoying some time away in a trailer in Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, with her husband, when her holiday took a turn for the worse. Her husband, Jack, had gone out fishing for the afternoon on Lake Erie, while Jo Ann stayed back with the couple’s dog and their Vietnamese Pot Belly pig, Lulu. While she was alone, Jo Ann started having severe chest pains and collapsed. She knew what was happening—she was having a heart attack. It was her second in 18 months. Lulu then went into rescue mode. As quickly as her impressive weight would allow, the pig waddled outside and plonked herself on the pavement. It was the first time she had ever left the confines of the yard. For the next 45 minutes, Lulu attempted to flag down every passing car by lying in the road until they stopped and then tried to lead them back to the trailer. After a few un- successful attempts, a man eventually followed Lulu and called for help. But even when the paramedics arrived, Lulu was reluctant to leave her owner’s side.
When a 3-year-old boy fell 24 feet into her Brookfield Zoo enclosure on August 16, 1996, 8-year-old female lowland gorilla Binti Jua sprang into action. Using maternal instincts honed by zookeepers at the San Francisco Zoo where she grew from an infant, Binti Jua approached the unconscious toddler, scooped him up and cradled him in one of her arms—her own 17-month-old on her back—as she carried him 60 feet to a door of the enclosure zookeepers used. “She was gently kind of rocking the kid in her right arm,” zoo worker Craig Demitros told Chicago reporters. At one point, she even turned her back to her fellow lowland gorillas, using her body as a shield for the injured boy. For her efforts, Newsweek readers voted her 1996’s “Hero of the Year.”
GUNNER THE DOG
When Gunner, a stray black-and-white kelpie, was found in the Darwin Air Force Base in Northern Australia, he was whimpering from a broken leg and hidden in the rubble of a recent Japanese air strike. After the discovery, Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott immediately took the young pup to the base’s doctor, where he was given a name and a number just like the rest of the recruits on base. Gunner began to settle in quickly with the troops, who took it upon themselves to train him. Soon after his arrival, however, Gunner started to demonstrate some special skills. It quickly became clear the dog’s hearing was so good that he could recognize incoming bomber planes from up to 20 minutes away.
When Gunner sensed an impending attack, he would whine and whimper in an attempt to get the soldiers’ attention, before hiding in the barracks. The men quickly realized Gunner couldn’t just hear the planes, he could identify which ones belonged to the enemy, as well. Eventually, the local Wing Commander gave the order that a siren should sound whenever Gunner alerted them. Gunner’s ability was invaluable and meant the men at the base always had the upper hand. By the time the bomber planes arrived, everybody was ready for the attack. The number of lives he saved will never truly be known.
9/11 RESCUE DOGS
After the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, more than 10,000 emergency workers began a brutal search of the wreckage that would last several weeks. Firefighters, police officers and rescue workers from around the world assembled in downtown Manhattan. But they weren’t alone—they had some help from a few furry friends. Working alongside them were more than 300 search-and-rescue dogs.
The dogs arrived early to the scene each day, working grueling 12-hour shifts well into the night, turning up little except more dust and rubble. With their sharp noses and small paws, the 9/11 rescue dogs scrambled freely amongst the fallen debris. The pets proved vital to the efforts. In fact, it was a dog, not an emergency worker, who found the last survivor to be pulled from the site.
Port Authority secretary Genelle Guzman-McMillan had been making her way down from her office on the 64th floor in the South Tower when the building began to shake. Within seconds, the entire tower had collapsed around her, trapping her inside the mess of concrete and crushing her leg. She lay stuck in the small space for 27 hours, until Trakr, a German Shepherd police dog, sniffed her out. Alerting the firefighters of his discovery, they were able to start digging at the spot he’d selected, and underneath they miraculously discovered the woman.
Trakr was just one of the canines who contributed to the enormous effort at Ground Zero. On average, the dogs worked for 12 to 16 hours straight for 10 days. Many of them, Trakr included, sometimes collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Just three days after the tragedy, Trakr suffered so badly from burns and smoke inhalation that he had to be treated with intravenous fluids. But the next day, he was back and raring to go—ever driven to keep to his important mission.
In fact, all of the dogs who arrived to help with their owners showed remarkable determination. Accounts of the rescues are littered with stories of pets who refused to give in and kept working against all odds. But the 9/11 rescue dogs had another very important purpose: to keep up morale. Many photographs taken from the aftermath show firefighters and other emergency workers smiling as they lean down to stroke their four-legged friends. In the face of so much destruction, the dogs were crucial to boosting the resolve of those they worked alongside. Many emergency workers have since confessed when the trauma of the task proved too much that brief moments of comfort from the animals were the only way to lift their spirits.