By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Brave and remarkable animals earn place as heroes in history

Lots of school kids, I suspect, might enjoy history with a new set of heroes to study.

Our country has outstanding heroes such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and many others. But some added animal heroes might make history more fun.

Lulu could be such a hero. Most animal heroes are dogs or horses, but Lulu was a potbellied pig who played dead to save her owner’s life.
In the late 1990s in Pennsylvania, Lulu became a media sensation.

While on a trip, Lulu’s owner left the pig with her parents, JoAnn and Jack Altsman, who also had a pet Husky named Bear.

On an August afternoon in 1997, JoAnn suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Bear barked and barked, but no one came.

Jack was on a fishing trip. No one was near. Lulu realized something had to be done, so she decided to play dead in order to attract the attention of a passing motorist.

Lulu managed to squeeze out a doggie door in the trailer where she and Bear were being kept. The door was much too small, but that determined pig managed to do so anyway, enduring severe scratches and wounds in the process.

Lulu had never been outside before, but now, although bleeding and wounded, she dragged herself into the road and lay down, hoping a motorist would stop. Several cars went by, but none of the drivers stopped.

Twice, Lulu went back in to check on JoAnn, then returned to the road, still bleeding. After nearly an hour, a motorist stopped.

Lulu scrambled to her feet, and walked toward the trailer. The concerned motorist followed Lulu, and found JoAnn unconscious.

She was rushed to the medical center and underwent open heart surgery. In response, Lulu was awarded the Tiffany gold heroes medal from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and invited to appear on the Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman shows.

However, Lulu’s owners spoiled her with sweet ice treats and jelly donuts, to the point where she topped out at almost 350 pounds. As a result, she died at age 5 — of a heart attack.

Students would surely be interested with history about a pot-belled pig hero. Those students would have been reminded that pigs are usually very intelligent, loyal and loving pets.

Surely bored history students would find the story of the Ethiopian Vigilanti Lions to be fascinating as well. It features a 12-year-old girl who was abducted and beaten by men trying to force her to marry one of them.

She was found being guarded by three lions. Police said they appeared to have run off her captors.

The girl, missing for a week, was found in the Genet area southwest of Addis Ababa.

It was believed the lions drove the men away and stood protectively around the girl for about half a day. Police speculated the whimpering young girl might have been mistaken for a lion cub.

“They stood guard until we found her and then just left her, like a gift, and the lions went back in the wild,” an officer said.

Animal heroes could fill numerous books. Take Bobbie the Wonder Dog, who covered more than 1,500 miles of plains, desert and mountains to find his way home. He joins such fictional canine heroes as Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

Paul was an unusual hero: an octopus hatched from an egg at Sea Life Centre, Weymouth, England, who became an animal oracle. He won national attention by predicting outcomes of association football matches.

His decisions were determined by two boxes of food taken to Paul by his keepers. The boxes were identical except that they were decorated with different team flags of competitors in upcoming football games.

The box Paul chose first was considered the favorite to win its match. Mostly this octopus was called on to pick international match winners.

In 2008, he had an overall success record of 85.7% — correctly choosing the winning team in four of Germany’s six Euro matches and all seven of its matches in the World Cup.

Paul predicted all seven of 2010 World’s Euro events. including Germany’s third round playoff win over Uruguay on July 10. He also correctly chose Spain as winner of the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.

Overall, Paul correctly predicted 12 of 14. He had enthusiastic supporters all over the world, and although this hero did not save lives, as a subject in a history book, he would have been a winner.

A hero who did save a life was Perceptive Willie, a Quaker parrot.

Willie sounded cries of alarm when its owner, a little girl, was choking to death on her breakfast. In response, he was awarded a lifesaver award by the local Red Cross Chapter.

In 1925, Nome, Alaska was threatened by a diphtheria epidemic as the city’s vaccine stock had expired. A thousand miles away in Anchorage, dog team drivers agreed to relay the medicine to Nome.

This serum run became known as the Great Race of Mercy. Twenty mushers and approximately 150 sled dogs traveled 674 miles in five and a half days, saving the town of Nome and the surrounding area from a diphtheria epidemic.

Balto, the lead sled dog in the final stretch into Nome became almost as famous as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. Balto statues stand in New York City and Anchorage.
Publicity surrounding that run helped spur a vaccination campaign in the United States, which drastically reduced the peril from that dreaded disease.

No mention has been made of the countless lives saved by animals in the military or dogs who rescue people from snowdrifts or the rubble of collapsed buildings. Each would make a memorable history lesson and could become students’ favorite subjects.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at


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