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Features March 2014 Issue

The (Traffic) Ties That Bind

Rescuing friends of a different species.

Though only 11, Jean Fernandes of Itajai, Brazil, raced out into a heavily trafficked road to rescue his dog last December. The tiny terrier, Little Mel, had escaped the family’s yard and darted into the street, where she was hit by a motorist who did not stop. With no thought for his own safety, Fernandes managed to halt traffic so he could rescue his dog from further injury and bring him back home to recover.

Closer to home, in Boston, the tables were turned the same month when 66-year-old John Miles was saved by his son’s dog, a 60-pound husky-terrier mix named Lucy. The two were on their daily four-mile constitutional — over a route they had shared for the better part of Lucy’s eight years — until a speeding motorist hit them both, rendering Mr. Miles unconscious on the pavement and suffering facial fractures, two broken legs, and a broken arm.

Lucy finally gets to visit John Miles in the hospital to make sure he's okay after the car accident in which she ran for help.

Lucy made her way across a four-lane road busy with mid-morning traffic to call for help, barking madly in front of a nearby dental office as an SOS call. Then she went back into the road and crossed the street again to snuggle up against Mr. Miles and perhaps keep him warm until an ambulance arrived.

Mr. Miles had no identification on him and, only barely conscious when the EMTs showed up, was unable to provide information to police. But Lucy’s ID tags provided her home address — the house where Miles lives with his wife, son, and daughter-in-law — and the family’s phone number. Mr. Miles’s daughter-in-law, Caitlin Miles, was teaching at school when she received the call to return home to tend to Lucy while her husband and mother-in-law rushed to join Mr. Miles at the hospital.

“It’s hard to even picture how it all happened,” Mrs. Miles says. “She has been a loyal dog all along, but to imagine her crossing the street to get help in mid-morning traffic — it’s impossible to put in words, but she did a great thing.”

And it gets even greater. It turns out that in being hit by the car, Lucy had sustained a painful injury in the cranial cruciate ligament of her rear right knee, but that didn’t stop her from helping her beloved friend.

Then it was Caitlin Miles’s turn to help Lucy, who she could see was limping and in considerable physical anguish. She brought her to MSPCA-Angell Memorial Hospital’s Emergency and Critical Care Unit in Boston, where many Tufts Cummings School graduates complete internships and residencies. There, staff surgeon Meghan Sullivan, DVM, DACVS, diagnosed Lucy’s traumatic injury that would require costly surgery and follow-up care.

While Mr. Miles remained in a rehabilitation facility facing months of physical therapy for his injuries, Lucy was able to receive her own surgery thanks to an outpouring of donations from people all over the world who had been moved after hearing of her heroism and loyalty.

“I was amazed at how much pain she had to have been in,” says Dr. Sullivan. “The actions she took on were pretty incredible.”

But more stressful for Lucy than her injury, it would seem, was her concern for Mr. Miles, evidenced by repeated wanderings into his home study where she moped and whimpered. Though the family attempted to reassure Lucy with an olfactory update by having Mr. Miles get his scent on her favorite teddy bear, they were unsure how much that calmed her. Fortunately, because of Lucy’s valor and her sociable demeanor, the staff at her human friend’s hospital decided to okay an in-hospital visit so that Mr. Miles and his rescuer could be reunited.

He was able to return home in time for Christmas, though he faced months of physical therapy for his injuries. And Lucy is now doing fine. With the exception of the likelihood of arthritis developing in her hurt knee, Dr. Sullivan says the prognosis is good.

As for Little Mel back in Brazil, he is expected to make a full recovery, safe at home with his family.

“These stories are always highly emotional because they demonstrate the tremendous bond that is always there between man and dog but seems to manifest so wonderfully in times of need,” says the Public Relations Director of the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Rob Halpin.

We agree. Dog lovers always know the bond is there, but sometimes a dire emergency really puts it into dramatic relief.

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