All animals are capable of amazing feats if their survival is on the line, but there’s a special place in our mythology for the ones who go out of their way to save others. There are the trained heroes, like guide dogs and therapy animals, but there have been plenty of cases of unexpected heroism shown by creatures of all kinds.
We’ve collected some documented instances of animals showing immense bravery and empathy in order to help another species. These stories prove that not all heroes wear capes — and some have fur!
Capone, The Canine Fire Alarm
One of the most common ways a house pet is able to be heroic is by alerting their family of imminent danger. You can find stories like this all over, but one dog in Iowa may be the best example of a life-saving pet after he helped a family of 10 avoid tragedy. In March 2017, the 2-year-old mix of miniature pinscher, Chihuahua and whippet alerted his human, Angela, that something was wrong in the kitchen after she had heated up a snack before going to bed. It turned out to be a small fire that quickly grew larger, but Capone’s warning allowed Angela and her nine children to get out of the house safely when the blaze had just started.
Tara, The Guard Cat
In a fight between a large dog and a typical cat, smart money would always go on the canine — but Tara doesn’t care about odds. In 2014, this black and gray kitty in California made international headlines after she roughed up a dog who was attacking her best friend. Tara’s human, a 4-year-old boy who has autism, was suddenly attacked by his neighbor’s dog while riding a bike in his driveway. A video of the scary incident showed Tara pouncing on the Labrador-chow mix and slamming it down, intimidating the pup enough to make it run away.
Willie, The Perceptive Parrot
A well-known fact about parrots is that they can learn words. While it’s often used as an amusing trick, Willie, a bird in Colorado, used his speaking abilities to save a child’s life. In 2008, Megan Howard, Willie’s human, was feeding a toddler she was watching, and had left the room for a moment when the girl started to choke on her food. Knowing something was wrong, Willie turned into a feathered siren, yelling, “Mama! Baby!” repeatedly and flapping his wings to get Megan’s attention. She was able to quickly do the Heimlich maneuver on the girl and save her life thanks to Willie’s warning.
Kerry Gold, The Guardian Horse
When most animals get a sense that their babies are in danger, they can turn from cuddly to deadly in a hurry. In 2006, Fiona Boyd, a woman in Scotland, found out that dairy cows are no different. Boyd was trying to move one of her 1,300-pound cows and its calf to a different building on her property when the baby started acting skittish, sending its mom into a rage directed at their handler. The massive cow knocked Boyd to the ground, stood over her and was about to crush her when the woman’s horse, Kerry Gold, ran over and started kicking the bovine with her back legs until it walked away, allowing Boyd to crawl under a fence and escape.
LuLu, The Resourceful Pig
If there hadn’t been several witnesses to this story of animal heroism, we would’ve have believed it was true. In 1998, Jo Ann Altsman had a heart attack inside the Pennsylvania trailer where she was staying and was unable to call for help. That’s when Altsman’s pet, LuLu, a 150-pound Vietnamese potbellied pig, sprang into action. The pig bolted out of her doggy door (or piggy door, in this case), left the front yard and ran into the street, where she laid down and pretended to be dead. A driver saw her, stopped and followed her to the house where he heard Altsman yelling and called 911.
Alaska’s Medicine Delivery Dogs
If we were doing a list of the world’s toughest animals, the dogs who run sled races in Alaska would definitely be up there. These intrepid pups actually helped save an entire town almost a century ago, proving they have heroism to go along with their athletic skills. In 1925, the residents of Nome were suffering through a diphtheria outbreak that threatened to wipe out the whole village. Nome was so remote and the winter was so historically bad that only a team of Siberian huskies could successfully make a run for life-saving drugs. Twenty teams of those dogs ran 674 miles in brutal weather to take medicine from Nenana to Nome.
Ethiopia’s Vigilant Lions
In 2005, some “Kings of the Jungle” really earned their crowns in Ethiopia. A group of seven men had kidnapped a 12-year-old girl and held her for a week, with the goal of forcing her into a marriage, when their plan was foiled by a trio of lions. According to police, the three big cats chased away the girl’s abductors after hearing her cries, which likely sounded to them like the sounds of a young lion in danger. Not only did they run off the kidnappers but they kept watch over the girl until police and her family arrived to take care of her.
San Francisco’s Vigilant Sea Lion
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a notoriously common spot for people to commit suicide by jumping, but a watchful sea lion helped give one such person a second chance. In 2000, 19-year-old Kevin Hines, battling psychosis and bipolar disorder, went to the bridge and jumped off it. He somehow survived the 220-foot fall to the icy sea and found himself being guided to the surface by something underwater. It turned out to be a sea lion helping push his severely injured body toward the light, according to what a witness later told Hines.
New Zealand’s Dolphin Bodyguards
Dolphins get a lot of good press because of their intelligence and friendly nature toward humans — but you can also add heroism to their list of amazing attributes. In 2004, a group of four people, including a man and his daughter, were swimming in New Zealand when they saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins circling them. They thought the dolphins were just being playful until they noticed the circle kept getting tighter and could see a great white shark just outside the barrier. The animals kept guarding the swimmers for 40 minutes until the shark lost interest and left, allowing the people to swim back to shore safely.
Bella, The Carbon Monoxide-Detecting Cat
While smelling smoke is a great skill for a heroic animal, detecting subtler fumes is even more impressive. In 2019, Florida couple Leona and Paul Jones had come home after dinner and, in their haste, had left their car quietly running in the garage when they came inside. In the middle of the night, their cat, Bella, started crying loudly enough to wake them from what could’ve been a permanent sleep. Leona was reportedly so weak from inhaling carbon monoxide during her sleep that she could barely call 911, but was still able to get emergency crews to respond.
Speedy, The Smoke-Detecting Goat
It’s not only cats and dogs that can alert their loved ones of dangerous situations. In 2017, an Arkansas family was saved by their new pet goat. Abigail Bruce got Speedy the goat as a gift for her 10th birthday, and two days later he woke his new best friend in the middle of the night by jumping on her. When Abigail awoke, she saw smoke everywhere, leading her to run to her parents’ room and wake them. The garage was on fire, but everyone made it out of the house safely, including the heroic family goat.
Lucas, The Canine Crime Fighter
Police dogs are literally a special breed of heroes, and one in Mississippi certainly earned his stripes. Lucas, a black Belgian Malinois, was waiting inside his cruiser one night when his human partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, got into a dangerous situation. Frazier had stopped to check on what looked like an unconscious driver on the side of a road when he was attacked by two men, one of whom cut him with a razor. Frazier was able to press a remote control that released Lucas from his car, allowing the ferocious pup to bite the attackers and send them driving away. Lucas’ heroism cost him some chipped teeth in the process.
Binta-Jua, The Guardian Gorilla
This is one of the most famous stories of a heroic animal ever recorded, and it never ceases to amaze. In 1996, guests a Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo were stunned when they saw a 3-year-old boy fall into an enclosure that contained gorillas. Expecting the worst to happen, the crowd instead witnessed an incredible act of empathy on the part of one of the animals. Binta-Jua, one of the gorillas, picked the injured child up and carried him to a doorway, where she laid him down for paramedics to take care of. The boy fully recovered, and Binta-Jua became a national treasure.
Ludwig, The Protective Pig
Guard dogs may be intimidating, but they’ve got nothing on a 240-pound guard pig! On New Year’s Eve in 2014, a pet pig named Ludwig kept his family in England safe from a gang of burglars. While Mike Maughan and Liane Scholz were asleep, a group of thieves broke into their house but were chased off by Ludwig, who was woken up by the commotion. The couple vowed to never eat pork again because of their pet’s diligent actions that night.
Sheba, The Paramedic Pup
As great as dogs are, they aren’t typically trained to perform life-saving procedures — but this pooch apparently was. In 2012, 18-year-old Aysha Perry was alone with her dog, Sheba the Akita, at home when she started to choke on a piece of chicken. Aysha later told Britain’s Mirror that she thought she was going to die as she was lying on the floor, unable to breathe. That’s when Sheba, who weighed about 70 pounds, stepped on Aysha’s back, sending the food flying out of her throat. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the story is that the pair had only been together for two weeks before Sheba saved Aysha’s life.
Tommy, The Speed-Dialing Kitty
Not to be outdone by a dog who knows the Heimlich, a cat in Ohio once saved his human’s life in an amazing way. Gary Rosheisen, who uses a wheelchair and suffers from ministrokes, tried to train his cat, Tommy, to press a speed-dial button on the phone that would dial 911 in case of an emergency. That’s exactly what the smart kitty did when Rosheisen had fallen out of his wheelchair one day in 2006. There was no voice on the call from Rosheisen’s house, but when emergency responders arrived, they found him on the floor and saw Tommy sitting near the phone.
The Helpful Humpback Whale
There’s apparently been only one recorded instance of a humpback whale protecting a human, and it happened in 2017. During a research trip to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, biologist Nan Hauser was approached by a 50,000-pound humpback who wouldn’t leave her alone. For more than 10 minutes, the whale swam next to Hauser, holding her with its fin and trying to put her on top of its head at times. It’s believed that the whale’s odd behavior was in order to protect Hauser from a tiger shark that was swimming nearby.
Kahn, The Babysitting Dog
Further proof that dogs don’t need long to develop protective bonds with people, an Australian family’s pup put himself on the line for their baby after just a week in their home. In 2007, the Svilicic family was playing outside in their garden when Kahn, a Doberman pinscher, suddenly grabbed their 17-month-old daughter, Charlotte, by her diaper with her mouth and tossed her to the side. Charlotte’s mom was frightened and confused but then heard Kahn cry out and realized that the dog had been bitten by a king brown snake, which carries deadly venom. The brave babysitter survived after a dose of anti-venom, but had Charlotte been bitten, she likely would’ve died.
California’s Bodyguard Bear
A hiker in California found out how powerful a bear’s protection can be in 2012. Robert Biggs was out on a hike near Whiskey Flats when he spotted a mother bear and her cub near a stream. After watching them for a bit, Biggs was about to keep walking when he was suddenly jumped by a mountain lion, who had latched onto his backpack. After struggling with the animal for a moment on the ground, Biggs was suddenly rescued by the mother bear, who grabbed the mountain lion by the neck and threw it, eventually chasing it away. He suffered a few minor injuries in the incident, but it would’ve been much worse without his massive guardian.
Kelsey, The Booming Barker
Sometimes, a dog’s voice can be it’s most powerful asset when it comes to being a hero. That was certainly the case with Kelsey, a golden retriever who saved her human’s life in 2016. On New Year’s Eve, her human, Bob, went outside of his northern Michigan home to get another log for his fire but he slipped and broke his neck. Unable to move or get help, Kelsey came to Bob’s aid, barking loudly for nearly 20 hours and keeping him warm even as he lost consciousness in the snow. A neighbor eventually heard Kelsey’s cries, found the pair in the woods and called for emergency crews to rescue him.
California’s Mustang Fire Marshal
Not all heroic animals need to use their efforts to save humans — sometimes it’s to protect their own species. During California’s devastating wildfires in 2019, a horse risked its own life to rescue other horses from the raging blaze. The heroic horse had already been rescued from the fire itself by people when it suddenly ran back toward the inferno. Footage from the scene showed the horse running back to the burning ranch from where it came, meeting up with two other horses and leading them away from the fire and back to the road.
Sako, The Sheltering Shepherd
In a nightmarish situation in the wilderness of Canada, a king shepherd proved more than worthy of its crown. During a road trip, Sako, the pup in question, was riding with 16-year-old Joseph Phillips-Garcia and two of his family members when their car crashed and rolled down a steep hill into the woods. Sako and Phillips-Garcia were thrown from the car and were the only two survivors of the crash, but the teen had suffered serious injuries so he was unable to move. Sako kept watch over the boy for about 40 hours, keeping him warm and guarding him against wild predators, until they were found.
China’s Beluga Lifeguard
As if you needed another reason to love whales, a beluga in China saved a woman’s life in 2009. Yang Yun was taking part in a free-diving contest in the sub-freezing waters at an aquarium called Polar Land when her body shut down. She got about 20 feet below the surface — with no diving equipment — when her limbs effectively became paralyzed by the extreme temperatures and pressure. That’s when a beluga whale who was in the tank grabbed ahold of her and pushed her toward the surface, saving her life and stunning the people watching the event.
The 9/11 Search Dogs
Search-and-rescue dogs are another special type of hero, and the ones who sifted through rubble and dust in the aftermath of 9/11 are some of the best to have ever lived. Crews of specially trained dogs searched through the awful scene at Ground Zero in New York for 10 days in September 2001, fitting into places their human handlers couldn’t and picking up otherwise undetectable scents that aided in recovering people who’d been killed. In 2016, the last known surviving 9/11 search-and-rescue dog, Bretagne, died at the age of 16 after a career that also included aiding at the scenes of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
The First Space Explorers
Mankind has taken all the glory that has come from exploring outer space, but space agencies first sent incredibly brave animals to do what they were too afraid to attempt. In the early days of space exploration, the Americans and Russians sent dozens of monkeys, cats, dogs, mice and other creatures into the dark depths of space before they would dare strap a human to a rocket. These animals often sacrificed their lives to allow the eventual human astronauts to survive their own trips. If that’s not heroism, we don’t know what is.