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How a Shelter Dog Became a Life-Saving Hero

After a horrific car accident, his cocker spaniel sought help for him. Would she find assistance in time?

Michael and Honey in a vehicle; Photo credit: Keith Brauneis

My new dog, Honey, trotted after me as I walked to my Toyota 4Runner that fall morning. I’d had her only a couple of weeks, but we’d become nearly inseparable. I’d gone through heart surgery a few months back. I figured taking care of a dog would keep me active. Besides, my wife’s job took her out of town a lot, and I could use the company. So I went to the local animal-rescue center. The little cocker spaniel quivering in a cage caught my eye right away. I leaned over to get a closer look. She had scared eyes. I could tell she longed to be picked up and hugged.

I went to talk to the shelter worker. “She just came in,” the woman told me. “Her name is Honey. Five months old. The owner said she couldn’t take care of her anymore.”

The worker opened Honey’s cage and let me pick her up. I stroked her silky fur and cooed. She stopped shaking. The two of us went to the side yard, where I picked up a ball and tossed it. I sat down to watch Honey race after the ball, ears flopping all the way. She came flying back toward me, ball in mouth, and leaped right into my lap. That was that. I filled out the paperwork and took Honey home.

She followed me like a shadow from the very first day. She loved to snuggle on my lap while we watched logs crackle in the fireplace. The only thing better was when she kept my feet warm by sleeping at the foot of the bed.

That October morning last year I decided to take Honey with me while I ran some errands. My wife was away for a few days and I hated the thought of leaving Honey alone. I grabbed my keys and made sure I had my nitroglycerin tablets. I opened the 4Runner’s door. “C’mon, Honey. Let’s go.” She jumped into the cab and settled down on the passenger seat. I got behind the wheel and started the SUV.

It’s always tricky turning around. We live in a remote area up in the hills outside San Rafael, California, surrounded by towering redwoods. You have to drive up the mountain in low gear to get to our driveway, which is barely wide enough for one car and ends at a steep drop-off.

I twisted around and backed up slowly. Just then, a flash of sunlight blinded me. I put my hand up to shield my eyes. I felt a jolt as the left rear section of the SUV dropped. Oh, no! The edge! The car slipped in the soft soil, and rolled. I hadn’t put on my seat belt yet; I was waiting to finish turning around. Now I tumbled inside the SUV as it somersaulted down the ravine. Branches snapped. The 4Runner rolled faster. Four, five, six rolls until I heard a horrible crunch. A giant limb plunged through the roof, hit my leg and chest, then embedded in the dash. We landed upside down. I felt a searing pain in my chest. I was pinned. I looked over to find Honey. She was still in the passenger seat and, thank God, she was okay. Shook-up, though.

“Sorry, girl,” I gasped. I tried to see if I could unpin myself from behind the wheel. I cried out from the pain. It was no use. Something was wrong with my leg. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. Please, God, let the call go through. The phone beeped twice. Just as I’d feared, I couldn’t get a signal at the bottom of this ravine. Now what?

I figured we were at least 50 feet down. Robin, my closest neighbor, lived a quarter mile uphill from me, and had her own driveway. There was no reason she or anyone else would drive up to my house. And even if someone did, they wouldn’t see the wreck.

My chest hammered. Calm down! I told myself. I had stents in my heart, after all; I couldn’t afford to panic. I groped in my shirt pocket and pulled out the nitro tablets. I took one out, slipped it under my tongue and took a deep breath. My heartbeat slowed. But I still had pain in my chest.

Must’ve busted some ribs.

Honey whimpered. At least I could get her out of here. There was a hole in the driver’s side rear window. It was small, but just maybe…“C’mon, girl,” I said. Painfully, I reached over and picked her up. I gently put her head through the hole, careful not to get her too close to a jagged edge. I got her fanny through and gave her a pat. “Go home, baby.” She jumped to the ground and raced up the side of the ravine.

My heart pounded like a jackhammer, so I took another pill. Maybe the horn. I tried, but couldn’t reach around the tree limb. I shouted, but knew that wouldn’t make any difference. No one would hear.

I sat there for hours. My ribs throbbed. By now I knew for sure I’d busted some. The pain was so bad. And I couldn’t feel anything in my left leg. If I ever got out of this mess, I’d probably lose it. I’d be a one-legged guy with a bum heart. And a cocker spaniel. Honey. Had she made it up the ravine safely? Had she found her way home? She hardly knew the area. What would happen to her?

The last bit of light filtering through the leaves faded away. Now, with the sun set, the air turned cold. I shivered. Maybe Honey will get help. Who was I kidding? Stuff like that only happened in the movies. “What is it, Lassie? Is Jimmy in trouble?” Honey was probably lost in the woods. And I’d gotten her into this mess! I felt my heart start racing again. Help me stay calm, Lord. You’ve given me a good life. A great wife. A great little dog. Watch over them if it’s my time. And, if not, please help me out of this. So tired. My pulse was weakening. All I had to do was close my eyes and…

Slam! I jolted awake at the noise. Was that a car door? “Help!” I shouted with all my strength. “Help!”

A voice answered, “Who needs help?” It was Robin. My neighbor!

“It’s me, Mike,” I yelled back. “Down here. Call 911!”

It seemed only minutes later I heard the throb of helicopter blades overhead. The rescue crew landed and made their way down to me. It took them 45 minutes to cut me out of the SUV and get me up the ravine. We flew to the hospital in the helicopter.

I got all sorts of tests, X rays, an IV. I’d broken five ribs, and there was internal bleeding and some serious muscle damage in my leg. “It’ll take a while to recover,” an ER doctor told me, “but you’re going to be okay.”

“What about Honey?” I asked Robin.

“She’s fine,” Robin said before they wheeled me off to my room.

I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while, so the next day a friend brought Honey to the hospital. She got right up next to me on the bed and snuggled close. With her there, it was like my pain disappeared. “It was the strangest thing,” Robin told me later. “I got home from work and Honey was waiting for me. She got all agitated and ran in circles, like she was trying to tell me something. She was frantic.” Robin figured she’d bring Honey back to my house, and that’s when she heard me yell. How that little dog knew what to do and where to go is beyond me. She’d never been over to Robin’s house.

And here’s the kicker, maybe. One day not long ago I was looking through her papers, which the shelter had sent to me. She had a different name originally. Can you guess? Angel. But I already knew that.

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