One of the best dog-related stories of this or any other month has been that of Duke, the ex-shelter mutt in Portland, Connecticut who somehow detected that a newly-born infant in his home was not breathing, and whose dramatic reaction led to her parents checking on her, calling 911, and saving her life. (Video below, right.)
Duke was adopted about six years ago by the Brousseaus. The little infant girl, as mentioned, was just nine weeks old. On the night of October 7th last, as reported by WFSB and others, Mr. and Mrs. Brousseau were in bed when Duke (who is a medium-sized mixed-breed dog) did something that was for him bizarre and out of character. He jumped on their bed, and was “shaking uncontrollably.” Somehow, the wordless communication between dog and human worked. The Brousseaus knew that something had to be very wrong, and instinctively went to check on their new daughter, Harper. She was not breathing. Immediately 911 was called and the paramedics got there in time to revive her. She then went to the hospital and apparently has come out right as rain.
The story is wonderful and also intriguing for so many reasons. It’s wonderful because, of-course, a baby was saved, and also because it goes against the grain of a lot of tragic news stories about dogs and babies. Far too often, the stories are of dogs that have long been resident in the house and react with some kind of animal jealousy to the arrival of a new-born, either resulting in the baby’s injury or death. I consider myself a dog lover without rival, but certainly I don’t think anyone should underestimate the possibility of something like this happening, no matter how much one loves and trusts one’s dog. That doesn’t mean dogs that have done no wrong should be abandoned by new parents, but it does mean that serious precautions should be taken so that a sudden animal impulse does not lead to an irreversible tragedy.
The story of Duke and Harper is the complete and blessed reverse. Although he had been in the home for six years, and the baby was an interloper of only nine weeks, his reaction on realizing she had stopped breathing was to be deeply disturbed, knowing somehow deep inside his beating canine heart that this baby was incredibly important, and that its death was going to be a catastrophe for his owners and him. Most dog owners have at least once or twice seen their dogs become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, and that was the effect of this realization on Duke the dog, and it was this reaction that provided the infant with an opportunity to be saved.
The incident raises more than one intriguing question. First, of-course: how did Duke know that Harper had stopped breathing? The most obvious guess would be that with his super-powered-doggie-ears he was listening to her breathe … and he heard her breathing stop. Beyond that, there might have been other senses at work. Dogs are now known to be able to detect epileptic seizures in advance in nearby human beings, and diabetic shocks as well, and indeed are now being used therapeutically for those functions. Is it their incredibly sensitive sense of smell that enables them to detect changes in body chemistry? Perhaps then the sense of smell also figured into Duke’s detection of the infant girl’s crisis.
Another question is one already alluded to: Given that Duke detected that the baby had stopped breathing, why then did he do anything at all? One could easily imagine the household dog—none too happy about all the attention for the new baby in the first place—noting that the creature had stopped breathing, perhaps lifting his head for a moment, and then just laying his head back down and going to sleep. After all, what business is it of his? Duke did differently. He virtually had a nervous breakdown, and somehow did the one thing that could have saved the little girl’s life, by waking her parents and disturbing them so dramatically with his behavior. He knew the baby mattered greatly, and her death would be a terrible thing for his owners. The fact that it wouldn’t affect him physically (he might even get more attention in a babyless home) was not what mattered. It affected him emotionally. There’s no other way to put it.
The story is a beautiful and moving one, lifting up the most positive and precious aspects of the love between dogs and human beings.
The Brousseaus say they went public with their story of this incident because they hope others will consider going to a shelter or pound to find a dog, as they did six years ago. And their story does prove beyond doubt that any old mutt can be the most priceless gem imaginable.