Lassie could always be counted on to run and get help when young Timmy was in trouble – and the trusty collie was so well-loved by the American public that the television program in which she starred was on the air for nearly two decades, making it the fifth-longest-running U.S. primetime series in history.

While Lassie and her adventures were based on a novel published in the 1940s, there is nothing fictional about the many wonderful ways animals help people – or the power such stories have to move and inspire us. The A&E show “An Animal Saved My Life” spotlights a different animal hero each week, and there are more than 100 books on a Goodreads list devoted to tales about heroes with tails.

Perhaps one of the most poignant examples in recent history dates back almost exactly 20 years: the 300 dogs who were part of the response team after the events of 9/11. Images of the dog/handler search-and-rescue teams lifted spirits around the world, and a photograph of Golden Retriever Riley being lifted out of the rubble became an iconic image in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Dogs have also been trained in a variety of other crucial tasks, including detecting explosives, assisting with police investigations, tracking missing persons, even providing crucial assistance in the event of an avalanche by locating people buried under feet of snow. These four-legged companions certainly are on the spot when every minute counts!

Not all canine heroism takes place on a large scale, and there are countless tales of family pets jumping in to lend a helping paw – pulling an owner to safety after the owner suffered a stroke, barking to raise the alert about a house fire, preventing a child from drowning, driving away a dangerous snake, and much more.

Some 500,000 dogs in the United States have a heroic job to do each and every day, as they have been specially trained to provide assistance for individuals with disabilities. For instance, these canine companions may help a blind person navigate, alert a diabetic about low blood sugar, summon help in the event of a seizure, or fetch items for a person in a wheelchair.  

Therapy dogs, on the other hand – other paw? – have been trained to relieve anxiety and provide comfort and affection as they visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, and various other locations to offer their own unique brand of support. Therapy dogs, like those who have visited the Elmhurst Public Library and Lombard Public Schools, can even help children gain confidence by listening as they read aloud. Just petting a dog can lower one’s blood pressure – so it’s no surprise that residents of Lexington Square, a vibrant retirement community with locations in Elmhurst and Lombard bring their furry family/friends to live with them in their apartments. Te residents also thoroughly enjoyed their recent visit from some four-legged friends! 

While most people have come to expect animal heroism from dogs, whether real like Riley or fictitious like Lassie, many felines have also proven to have rescue chops of their own. Cats have pinned down headlines like a pesky ball of yarn by keeping abandoned babies safe and warm, fending off bullies, detecting cancer, helping a soldier overcome depression, even calling 911!

Some wild animals, too, have garnered their share of fame for stepping in to assist humans in need. Three lions helped save a 12-year-old girl from kidnappers in Ethiopia, a whale helped a struggling swimmer return to the surface, a gorilla at Brookfield Zoo tended to a boy who had accidentally fallen into her enclosure, and an elephant carried a young girl safely out of the path of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, to name just a few astonishing tales.

If you’re looking for some feel-good stories to boost your spirits during these uncertain times,  anecdotes featuring animal heroics just may do the trick. 

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