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Pets' Amazing Abilities

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Dogs That Rescue People

In 2008, a stray dog in Argentina captured hearts and headlines when she carried an abandoned infant back to her litter of puppies. A similar thing happened in Kenya three years before, according to media reports.

The fact that a dog might pull a baby out of a dangerous situation “is really not that surprising,” says animal behaviorist Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, because it likely recognizes the baby as “a new pack member.”

“Both dogs and cats will go into blazing buildings to get their litter out,” says Dodman, who directs the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Clinic. “If one of their buddies is lying in the road, it makes sense they would pull them back.”

Some dogs are better at this than others, in the same way that some people are more likely to run into a burning building without regard to their own safety, says ASPCA science advisor Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist.

In other tales of people rescued by dogs, we may be giving the pets too much credit. The dog that wakes his owners by barking when a house catches fire may simply be frightened or upset and wants the owner to do something, Zawistowski says.

“They’re not saying ‘Run, run, run.’ They’re saying, ‘Wake up and save me, something bad is happening,’” Zawistowski says. “We have to put this into context ... We see a lot of cases where pets wake people up and there’s nothing wrong.”

Dogs and Cats Finding Their Way Home From Long Distances

In 2010, an Alabama cat disappeared from his owner’s daughter’s apartment, only to reappear more than two months later at the owner’s home, six miles away. Two years earlier, an Airedale terrier was lost in a car accident in Connecticut and found his way back to his Rhode Island home - a journey of 45 miles.

No one knows precisely how they do it, or just how far the animals are capable of returning from. But domestic dogs and cats are equipped with several skills that allow them to retrace their steps from certain distances, Dodman says.

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