If there’s anything we know, it’s that our pets are truly remarkable.
Every pet is special in its own way, and the dogs, cats, lizards, hamsters, chinchillas, and every other animal we share our homes with remind us of that every day.
But some animals are so remarkable, they break the internet with their stories. Those are the ones we wanted to highlight here — pets that went far above and beyond to protect or rescue their owners, to survive terrible natural disasters, and to show how brave and wonderful animals can truly be.
Rademenes the Nurse Cat
In 2014, a sick black cat arrived at a Polish animal shelter. His name was Rademenes, and he was suffering from such a severe infection to his respiratory tract, his owners had brought him to be euthanized. Shelter workers decided to give the poor kitty a second chance, despite long odds for survival, and to their surprise, he recovered.
After he started to feel better, though, Rademenes started doing something incredible: He started spending time with other sick and injured animals at the shelter. While they were recovering, Rademenes would cuddle with them and lick their ears — and workers at the shelter said the animals under the care of their “Nurse Cat” would recover quicker than other sick and hurt animals.
To this day, Rademenes still lives at the shelter, where workers treat him as a full-time employee, there to comfort and nurse his fellow pets back to health.
Odin, the Dog Who Braved Fire to Save His Goats
As wildfires raced toward their property in 2017, the Handel family barely escaped with their lives. Before they fled the fast-approaching flames, there was no time to load up their herd of eight goats, and their Great Pyrenees, Odin, refused to get in the car without them.
It wasn’t until the family reached safety that Roland Handel could process the fact that they’d left Odin behind.
“We were hoping somehow they were OK, that some miracle happened,” he told reporters.
The day after the fire swept through their area, the Handels returned to their home, where they found that everything — their house, their barn, and other outbuildings — had been destroyed. But there, among the wreckage, was Odin — and all eight goats.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Roland said. “Everything else is gone. There’s nothing.”
Odin was limping on burnt paws and his fur had been singed by flames. The family believes he led the goats to safety in a nearby rock outcropping. After a full vet checkup, Odin turned out to be just fine and recovered well.
“He’s going to be back with his goats,” his overjoyed owner said.
Ban, the Dog Who Survived at Sea After a Tsunami
The devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 swept many people and pets out to sea. The Japanese Coast Guard led heroic rescue efforts for weeks after the waters receded, which is how they found Ban.
An incredible three weeks after the tsunami struck, Ban was found floating on the roof of a house more than a mile from shore. The Coast Guard was able to catch him and bring him back to dry land, where he became an instant celebrity for his bravery and tenacity.
Luckily, all the media attention meant Ban’s owner was able to see him on TV and recognize him. The two were reunited after they both survived a harrowing natural disaster.
Jambo, the Gentle Giant
In 1986, patrons at the Jersey Zoo looked on in horror after a 5-year-old boy named Levan Merritt fell into the gorilla enclosure. Levan had suffered severe injuries, including a cracked skull, in the fall, and was unconscious in the enclosure.
Jambo, a male silverback gorilla, stood over the boy in a protective stance, even stroking his back. When Levan woke up and began to cry, Jambo led all the other gorillas in the enclosure into a hut in a corner, allowing zookeepers and paramedics to reach and rescue Levan.
Smokey, Penny, and Bowser: Pups Who Survived Tornadoes
Earlier this year, devastating tornadoes tore through Alabama, destroying numerous buildings and homes. One of those belonged to the Williams family in Fultondale. The family stayed safe in a tornado shelter, but their home was destroyed — and their dog, Smokey, was lost in the chaos. The day after the tornado struck, though, the family was searching through the debris of their former home and found Smokey, largely unharmed.
He’s not the only dog to survive a tornado — even this year. In February, a tornado struck Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, hitting the home of Brittany Memory. The twister pulled art off her walls and the sheets off her beds — and swept her Yorkshire Terrier, Penny, out a window. Incredibly, though, Penny returned home just a few hours after the storm, uninjured.
Maybe no tornado story tops that of Bowser the schnauzer, though. Bowser’s owner, Barbara Garcia, lost her home in a devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013. Though Barbara took Bowser with her to hide from the storm, her house was directly in the tornado’s path, and Bowser was lost as the home was torn apart.
Barbara was outside the rubble of her home with local news crews days later, when someone spotted movement in the debris. It was Bowser, who escaped from the wreckage relatively unharmed and was reunited with Barbara, overcome with joy that her sweet pup was safe.
Cher Ami, the Pigeon Who Became a War Hero
We don’t usually think of pigeons as heroic pets, but that didn’t stop Cher Ami. This pigeon, whose name means “Dear Friend” in French, flew for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during WWI, delivering vital messages to soldiers that, in many cases, helped protect their lives.
Cher Ami flew 12 important missions before he was injured by enemy fire. Even though he was shot in the chest and leg, he still completed his final mission and delivered a message that helped 194 soldiers be rescued. Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre award for his heroic service and was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame.
Swansea Jack, the Lifeguard Dog
Swansea Jack was a Welsh dog who was believed to be a black lab or a Newfoundland. He lived on the banks of Swansea from 1930 to 1937.
In 1931, Jack heard the cries of a 12-year-old boy who was struggling in the water near the city’s docks. He dove into the sea and saved the boy, but no one saw the rescue happen, so it wasn’t recognized at the time.
A few weeks later, though, Jack dove into the water again, this time rescuing a swimmer in distress by pulling him close enough to the docks that he was able to climb to safety. A crowd witnessed Jack’s heroic efforts this time, and he was featured in an article in the local paper. A town council also recognized him with a silver collar.
By 1937, Jack had saved 29 lives from drowning in the rivers and sea around Swansea. He was awarded a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London, and to this day, he’s the only dog to have been awarded two bronze medals by the National Canine Defence League. A memorial to Swansea Jack can be viewed on the Promenade in Swansea.
Barry, the Most Heroic St. Bernard in History
Barry the St. Bernard was born in 1800 at the Great St. Bernard Hospice, a monastery that served as a mountain rescue for Switzerland and Italy. His full name was Barry der Menschenretter, which means “Barry the People Rescuer” in German.
Barry is credited with braving avalanches and snowstorms to find and rescue as many as 40 people throughout his life. His most famous rescue was that of a young boy who was lost and trapped in an ice cave — when Barry found him, he licked him to warm up his body, then allowed the boy to climb on his back and carried him to safety. The boy lived and was reunited with his parents at the monastery.
Peter Scheitlin, a famous animal psychologist, wrote about Barry in his book, Complete Study on Animal Instinct.
“The best of dogs, the best of animals is Barry,” he wrote. “You used to leave the convent with a basket round your neck, into the storm, in the most insidious snow. Each and every day you examined the mountain searching for unfortunates buried under avalanches. You dug them out and brought them back to life by yourself and, when you couldn’t, you rushed back to the convent signalling the monks for help. You resurrected people. Your tenderness was so easy to communicate, that the boy you dug out had no fear to let you bring him, holding on to your back, to the Hospice.”
Barry worked as a mountain rescue dog for 14 years, and then was sent to live out his retirement with a monk in Bern, Switzerland. After he died, his body was preserved and is still on display at the Natural History Museum of Bern.
The Great St. Bernard Hospice has honored Barry’s memory by always keeping one dog named Barry, ever since the early 1800s.
LuLu the Lifesaving Potbelly Pig
LuLu, a Vietnamese potbelly pig, was a 150-pound pet in 1998, when her owner, Jo Ann Altsman, suffered a heart attack inside her travel trailer.
Altsman threw an alarm clock through her window and yelled for help, but no one was around to hear her — except LuLu. The pig squeezed her porky body through the trailer’s dog door and set out to find someone who could help her beloved owner.
Eyewitnesses say LuLu laid down in the road and played dead, forcing cars to stop driving to avoid hitting her. Eventually, one of the drivers who stopped got out of his car and followed LuLu, who led him to her home — and to Jo Ann, who needed help. Outside the trailer, the man yelled, “Lady, your pig’s in distress.” Jo Ann yelled back, “I’m in distress, too. Call an ambulance!”
Thanks to LuLu’s life saving behavior, Jo Ann was taken to a hospital and made a full recovery. And press coverage of the pig’s heroic deed made her a hero all over the world.