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Pit Bull Called “Hero” after Coming to Stricken Owner’s Aid

BOSTON, June 22, 2015 – A rescued Pit Bull who lives with her family in West Roxbury, Mass. has been declared a hero by the MSPCA-Angell after her loud barking helped save the life of her stricken owner last month.

“Sweet Dee” – a six-year-old Pit Bull adopted five years ago from the MSPCA’s Boston adoption center by Elliott Nerland and his wife, Erin Daly—jumped into action in the early hours of May 2 after discovering Nerland on the couch, unresponsive and in cardiac arrest.

Racing to the couple’s bedroom and barking incessantly, Sweet Dee nudged and roused a sleeping Daly who immediately called 911 and began administering CPR after discovering Nerland.  “At this stage Elliott’s heart had stopped and he was not breathing,” she later recalled.  “I credit Sweet Dee with making it very clear that something was terribly wrong.  Had I made it there even one minute later Elliott may not be with us today.”

Magic Trifecta: Loyal, Smart and Loving

Elliott was rushed to the hospital by first responders, where he spent several days in a medically induced coma.  Prior to his discharge doctors implanted an internal defibrillator to shock his heart back to a steady rhythm should the need ever arise.  Grateful to be alive, Elliot’s thoughts turned to his wife and dog.

“It’s just astounding  how Sweet Dee knew that something was very wrong and that it was clear to her that I wasn’t sleeping,” he said.  “She’s a beloved member of our family but I never realized just how deep our bond is.  Both Dee and my wife were there for me when I needed them most and I’m forever humbled and profoundly grateful.”

One person who was not surprised by Sweet Dee’s heroic act is Dr. Terri Bright, director of the Behavior Services department at the MSPCA.  “This is one of those moments where we all step back and appreciate anew the incredible bond that dogs can establish with their families,” she said.  Dr. Bright explained that she believes the training background embraced by Nerland and Daly made Sweet Dee confident at the time she most needed to be.

“I think Sweet Dee knew something was horribly wrong and that she should sound the alarm, and she did so without fear of punishment for barking loudly,” said Dr. Bright.  “She barked and woke Erin up, so in her own dog way, made it clear that Elliott needed help.  She’s a hero—and so is Erin for administering life-saving CPR.”

Dr. Bright, who has trained thousands of dogs over the course of her career using rewards instead of force, points to Sweet Dee’s behavior as validation of this approach.

“In my experience dogs who are primarily trained with rewards-based methods are less likely to be intimated by novel situations, such as the one Sweet Dee faced,” said Dr. Bright.  “As a scientist I can say that I believe her training history played a role because it helped establish a human-animal bond based on trust, not on fear.”

Nerland continues to recover at home with Daly and Sweet Dee.  “If anything,” he said, “this whole situation has brought us that much closer.  I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”