When Poodles
are Heroes

By Lynn Franklin

Lynn Franklin had always thought of her Standard Poodle Sam as a wonderful companion and playmate, but it was not until her family was in mortal danger that she learned he was also a hero.

Sharp teeth closed over my arm. I opened my eyes . . . thought I opened my eyes . . . but the hazy darkness could have still been my dream. The sensation on my arm eased and wet sandpaper swept my face. Now I could see Sam’s black silhouette, feel his hot breath, hear his urgent bark. But my body still had not connected with my brain.

Sam’s mouth closed over my arm again and gently pulled until my shoulder hung over the side of the bed. As I struggled to sit up, he released my arm, stepped away, and barked. Clearly my Standard Poodle was trying to tell me something.

Historically, dogs’ ability to communicate to their human companions has made them indispensable. From the early wolf/dogs who guarded our ancestors’ camps to the dogs who searched for survivors after 9/11, dogs have assumed the roll of natural protectors. A Google search for hero dogs reveals stories of dogs that pulled children from swimming pools, dragged heart attack victims to safety, alerted sleeping families to carbon monoxide dangers.

Yet most dog owners who read about canine heroes inevitably respond, "My dog would never do that."

And yet, dogs communicate to us every day. Poodles are especially resourceful. When Sam’s pressed rawhide gets too small to hold comfortably, he tosses it into my lap and waits until I get up to get him a new, larger one. When he thinks it is time for a bath, he follows me into the shower. When he wants to play or thinks I have not been paying enough attention to him, he tosses a toy onto my keyboard.

But this was the first time he had ever awakened me in the middle of the night.

As I struggled to understand what he was trying to tell me, something cracked nearby. Gunshots?

The jolt of adrenaline brought me fully awake. I snatched my robe, then nudged my snoring husband. "Someone’s shooting."

He grunted and rolled over.

I started towards the front door, but Sam blocked my way. He trotted towards the utility room, paused, looked over his shoulder. When I did not respond immediately, he barked and took two more steps toward the basement. I followed.

The popping sounds grew louder as we approached the furnace room. So did the haze.


I opened the door and a blast of heat hit me in the face. The popping came from my left, from the electrical control panel, where blue white flames shot six feet into air. Tripping circuit breakers cracked.

Turning, I called Sam and ran back into the bedroom.

"The house is on fire!"

Jon shot up, grabbed his robe.


"Furnace room."

As Jon ran from the room, I snatched up a nearby phone. No dial tone.

Sam and I charged into the office to the only non-portable phone. That line, also, was dead.

Jon ran into the office.

"There’s nothing we can do. Get out NOW."

The three of us ran outside, down the driveway, into the trees.

The kitchen windows exploded.

Suddenly the lovely seclusion of our wooded lot took on sinister shapes. With Sam leading the way and explosions sounding behind us, we ran up the long driveway and pounded on the door of the nearest neighbor.

Hours later, dressed in borrowed clothes, we entered the burned out shell of what had once been a stately timber home. Sam insisted on coming with us. He clung to my side while I kept a wary eye out for nails, glass, and other sharp objects.

The inspector told us the fire had started in the electrical box. The cracking I had heard had been circuit breakers tripping. Once the circuit breakers had tripped, 440 volts of direct electricity had fed the fire. The firemen could not do anything until the electric company shut down the electricity from the outside.

In the basement, near the fire source, stored clothing, office equipment, and computer parts had disintegrated or melted into unrecognizable lumps. The door to the freezer had actually melted, spilling charred food everywhere.

Upstairs most of the windows had burst from the heat. My computer monitor and keyboard had melted into a Dali-like configuration. Sam nudged the charred face of the Raggedy Ann doll that my long-dead grandmother had made me.

The most chilling site, however, were the four strategically placed smoke alarms. All had melted against the walls – and none of them had sounded the alarm.

If it had not been for Sam, we would never have gotten out alive.

Back outside, we listened numbly to the insurance adjuster as he told us he did not think anything could be saved. What had not burned, melted, or charred had been coated so heavily with soot that it could not be salvaged. All we had left were our robes . . . and our hero dog who was not about to let a little thing like a fire destroy our happiness. As we contemplated our next move – buy clothes – Sam spotted a squirrel. With a happy yip, he chased it back into the tree where it belonged, then raced back to us, tail wagging.  Telling us that life goes on.