By Audrey Topping
If thy heart be right, then will every creature be to thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine.
–Thomas à Kempis, 1427
An extraordinary photo story of Amanda – a dog who risked her life to rescue her six nursing puppies from a roaring house fire in Chile – went viral, proving what we have long known: Dogs can display remarkable courage, intelligence and compassion, along with maternal instincts.
As the fire raged around her, Amanda figured out that the safest place to shelter her 10-day-old pups was in a fire truck that had arrived to fight the blaze. The firefighters watched in awe as the long-haired mongrel raced into the smoking fire and emerged carrying pup after pup in her mouth. She didn’t stop until all six were safely deposited on the cool steel floor inside the truck’s open equipment compartment. Fortunately for us, an onlooker photographed the whole thing with his cellphone and posted the touching story online.
How could Amanda know this was the safest place to shelter her pups? The sympathetic firefighters could not believe their eyes. No one could stop the dog, so they sprayed water on her fur to protect her from serious singeing as she raced back and forth without regard to her own safety. After rescuing all the pups from the blaze, she counted them and lay down to nurse them. An emergency veterinary service was called and Amanda and pups were rushed to the hospital. Some were singed, but only one puppy, the last little one, had serious burns. They all survived. Viewers were enriched not only by the heartwarming story – the only good news of the day – but by a sense of kinship that recognizes animals as worthy in themselves.
When reading Amanda’s story on email, I was reminded of the lessons other animals have taught me in my life. There was Charlie, this smart-ass Australian cockatoo whom I had rescued from an opium peddler in Hong Kong, and Kvetch, a fat stray tabby with one collapsed ear and piercing green eyes, who had decided to adopt us. They showed me that even cats and birds are capable of being altruistic and kind-hearted.
One of my dogs was a bundle of fluff called Panda, rescued from the cruel streets of Manhattan. The pup developed a special affection for Charlie, the cockatoo we had brought to Scarsdale, where he hung out in the apple tree. Charlie spoke several languages and would call Panda by name. Imitating me, the bird would call, “Panda come,” “ sit” and reward her by saying “Good girl, Panda.” This made both the cockatoo and the pup deliriously happy.
A deep friendship developed and Panda became Charlie’s guard dog. When Panda was 17, her eyesight and hearing began to fail. The first one to notice this was Kvetch. He complained constantly to me but loved to play with Panda and Charlie.
One day when I called the animals for dinner, Panda, who was sleeping under Charlie’s tree, didn’t respond. Then Charlie shouted loudly, “Panda, Panda” and whistled like a fire engine. Panda shook her head and looked around in bewilderment. I realized she could hardly hear and barely see.
Kvetch ran over to Panda, poked her with his paw and to my amazement began swishing his tail under the dog’s nose. Panda had not lost her sense of smell and when she sniffed Kvetch, she got up and began to follow the swishing tail tickling her nose. Kvetch then led Panda to her food dish.
At first I could hardly believe what I was seeing, but there was no mistaking that Charlie, acting as sentinel, and Kvetch, the seeing-eye cat, were working together to help the old dog. This compassionate eldercare continued for more than a year. They took their jobs seriously. Every morning Kvetch would lead Panda for a walk around the garden by swishing his tail under her nose.
Although blind and almost deaf, Panda was able to enjoy life until she died of old age. Kvetch was lying beside Panda when the old dog joined her ancestors in dog heaven. Charlie watched from his tree when we buried Panda in the garden cemetery.
Charlie sobbed like a child and Kvetch grieved in a hole under the hedge for two days before Charlie called “Here kiddy, kiddy,” to come out and play. Watching these three different species working together left no doubt in my mind that animals are capable not only of communication between species but unconditional love.
It is my hope that intimate portraits of animals like Amanda and Panda will help create a feeling of respect and convey that they, too, like every sentient being, have a right to exist.