According to an old adage, dogs regard us as family, while cats see us as staff. Veterinarian Gary Weitzman, President of the San Diego Humane Society, isn’t buying it. “Cats bond to us the same way as dogs…they (just) show it differently,” he says. While canines crave round-the-clock petting, felines are more restrained in their show of affection. But though they may play hard to get, cats reward their patient owners with head bumps, friendly meows, and slowly blinking eyes which signal trust, says Gary. And sometimes by saving our lives.
“Cats are attuned to our emotional state and their superior sense of smell picks up pheromones we emit when we’re stressed or unwell,” says Gary. That’s when our cats can swing into action to protect us. And while not every cat is perhaps hero material, there are a lot more of them than people realize. Meet five hero cats who saved lives and limbs:
PIXIE: Doting cat saves life of toddler
Sophie and Mike Sawyers’ rescue cat, Pixie, has been protecting their toddler all her life. From the moment April was born in 2015, the brown Tabby cat and the baby were inseparable. Pixie followed her charge around everywhere and snuggled close to her when she cried. “I think she’s got that mother instinct,” says Sophie Sawyer, who lives in Melksham, England.
That sixth sense proved to be invaluable one night in November 2016. The couple was fast asleep when Sophie awoke to the sound of Pixie careening up and down the hallway. Thinking the cat was just chasing a mouse, Sophie dragged herself out of bed and tried to calm her down before the cat awoke her daughter.
Pixie wasn’t cooperating. She raced toward the nursery, running in circles outside its closed door. When Sophie entered the room and flicked on the lights, she found her 18-month-old toddler keeled over, coughing and choking.
Sophie screamed for her husband, and together they whacked April’s back until a few shiny green grapes popped out of her mouth. April’s breathing returned to normal immediately, and she fell back asleep. The frightened couple and their cat kept a vigil by the girl’s bed for an hour to make sure she was okay.
Sophie credits her cat with saving her daughter’s life. “If it wasn’t for Pixie, I can’t imagine what would have happened.”
Sophie decided to publicize her cat’s caring. An article in the local Melksham Independent News began a flurry of media attention, culminating in a National Cat Award from the Cats Protection, a UK feline welfare charity. Sophie is saving these clippings for the day April is old enough to understand what happened.
But the Sawyers’ biggest reward was their own sense of wonder, which sprang out of sharing their story. “What happened (was) amazing,” says Sophie. “We’re so grateful.”
HOMER: Blind rescue cat chases off intruder from owner’s bedroom
The last thing Gwen Cooper needed was a blind, black kitten. The timing was terrible—in the summer of l997, Gwen was living at a friend’s house while nursing a broken heart. And she already had two cats.
But Gwen’s vet, who had cared for the abandoned animal, was desperate to find a home for the special-needs animal. Gwen was her last resort.
Gwen’s objections disappeared the moment she picked up the scrawny cat, who purred and nuzzled her neck. “He …just melted my heart,” she says.
The cat she named Homer (after the blind Greek poet) had a zest for life undiminished by his handicap. He loved plucking rubber bands and pounced unerringly on buzzing flies. Homer’s blindness made him brave. “He never knew how much smaller he was than other cats—he would always stand up to them,” says Gwen.
Homer’s courage saved his owner’s life. In the summer of 2000, Gwen was jolted awake by Homer’s growls. Turning on her bedside lamp, she saw a strange young man hovering over her bed. “I was instantly terrified,” she recalls. She tried to dial an emergency number, but the intruder told her “Don’t do that.”
Sensing her fear, Homer launched himself at the burglar, who turned tail and fled.
Homer’s fearlessness rubbed off on his owner. “The biggest thing I got from Homer is that sometimes…you just have to take a blind leap.” In 2004 she took a chance on dating her best friend, though she feared losing him if the relationship failed. Today they’re happily married.
She also embarked on a writing career, which was cemented by the publication of Homer’s Odyssey, a memoir about her life with the cat. Gwen earmarked 10 percent of the bestseller’s royalties to support organizations serving disabled animals. My Life in a Cat House, about all her favorite felines, is her latest book.
Though Homer passed away in 2013, his legacy endures. Readers still email Gwen to tell her that they’ve been inspired to adopt a special needs animal on account of her story. “I find that gratifying and…incredible,” she says
IVY: A standoffish Siamese mix springs into action to save trapped man
When Mary Johnston first set eyes on the Manitoulin Island, ON rescue cat in the winter of 2017, she was more impressed with the cat’s appearance than her personality. The elegant part-Siamese cat with the vivid blue eyes was striking. So too was her behaviour.
“She’s friendly enough if you don’t go near her,” says Mary. The 74-year-old from the tiny Northern Ontario community of Tekhummah (population 400) learned that the hard way when she first tried to pick up her new friend. “She almost removed my arm,” she recollects.
Ivy, however, was to redeem herself a few weeks later. Mary was absorbed in a book when Ivy jumped from the windowsill onto her lap. Mary ignored her at first, but the cat kept pacing back and forth until Mary became alarmed. “It was unusual behaviour—she didn’t (normally) snuggle,” she says. Ivy continued to bother Mary until she got up to see what was going on. It was then Mary heard a noise through the window that sounded like the deep growl of a cat in distress.
Going outside to investigate, she traced the sound to a nearby barn. Entering through the open door, Mary found her neighbour, Eric Russell, trapped 13 feet in the air, dangling by his arm and screaming for help. “I was shocked,” says Mary. The farmer had been on a ladder repairing his garage door when a spring broke and pinned his arm. He was in agony and had almost lost hope when Mary arrived.
“Hold on,” she told him. Mary alerted Eric’s wife, who called 911. The paramedics rushed him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with nerve damage in his arm. The doctor told Eric that he was close to losing the limb altogether.
Eric thanked his feline rescuer, who became an international media sensation, with toys and treats. The hero cat, however, is immune to fame.
“She thinks she’s a prima donna at the best of times,” says Mary. When she’s not tormenting her feline housemate, Ivy is curled up on the sofa by herself. But Mary is used to independent animals—her other cat, Nellie, refuses to be touched at all. Mary doesn’t mind. “If they’re happy, I’m happy,” she says.
MONTY: A rescue Tabby saves his owner from slipping into a diabetic coma
Patricia Peters was only seeking a feline companion for her cat, Max, when she adopted Monty from the Edmonton Humane Society in 2011. But she connected immediately with the tawny cat who snuggled close against her chest. “He picked me—I knew I had to take him home,” she says.
Adopting Monty turned out to be a very good decision.
The rescue cat was attuned to his new owner right from the start. Whenever Patricia was ill or upset, the Tabby would jump into her lap and comfort her until she felt better.
Monty’s intuition proved invaluable one night in March 2012 when he woke her up by nibbling on her fingers. She tried to brush him off, but the cat persisted until she sat up to push him away. That’s when the recently diagnosed diabetic noticed that she was dizzy and confused. As she staggered down the hall, Monty was glued to her side and when they reached the kitchen, the cat jumped onto the counter and sat beside her blood testing kit. Her blood sugar was 2.7, dangerously low.
After popping some sugar tablets, Patricia lay down on her couch, hoping to snooze before retesting. But Monty kept her up by walking on her body. When the second result came back normal, they both returned to bed and fell asleep curled up together. “He stayed there all night with me…watching over his mama,” says Patricia.
It wasn’t until the next day that Patricia recognized the enormity of what had happened. Without Monty’s intervention, she would have probably slipped into a coma from which she may not have recovered.
Her doctor wasn’t surprised by the cat’s diagnostic ability. “Cats detect a lot of things people are not aware of,” he said. It’s possible that Monty picked up his owner’s blood sugar through the smell of her breath.
Monty became a celebrity almost overnight and was even inducted into Purina’s “Hall of Fame.”
Back home, Monty continues to monitor his owner’s health, meowing and pawing her leg whenever her blood sugar drops. “He’s …my little guardian angel, watching over me,” says Patricia.
BLAKE: Shelter kitten saves the life of his rescuer
In 2015, Glen Schallman gave himself the best Christmas present when he picked out a new pet at the North Texas Humane Society in Fort Worth. The little black cat stood out immediately. “There’s this kitten…jumping up and down, meowing, going crazy, while the other(s) are doing nothing,” he recalls. When the staff put him in Glen’s arms, the cat circled his neck with his paws. “He was saying ‘Take me home, I’m yours,’” says Glen.
Blake’s trusting demeanor was remarkable given the filthy, cramped home he’d been rescued from along with 26 other hoarded animals.
He seemed to have forgotten these abuses as he took over Glen’s place, jumping on the furniture and stealing bagels.
He also began to take care of his new owner. Glen suffers from three rare brain conditions causing severe daily seizures: unilateral schizencephaly, polymicrogyria, and hypothalamic hamartoma. He calls them “a triple whammy. On their first day together, when Glen’s arm began shaking, Blake put his paw on the trembling limb. He was saying ‘You’re going to be okay, daddy,’” says Glen.
Three days later, Blake made good on that promise. Glen was awoken from a full-blown seizure by his new kitten nibbling his toes. “If he didn’t…wake me up I would not be here today,” he says.
Glen cradled the cat and smothered him with kisses. ‘’I’m proud of you,’” he told his feline saviour, who won an ASPCA Humane Award in 2016.
Blake and Glen’s other cat, Maxwell, continued to demonstrate an uncanny ability to predict an impending convulsion. They would “grab my leg and push me to lay down,” says Glen.
Blake’s neurologist was impressed. Glen is the oldest survivor with his brain conditions, and the doctor attributes this to his feline medics.
Glen, in turn, doted on Blake, who developed digestive problems and passed away October 30, 2019 in Glen’s arms. He’d play ball with Blake in the middle of the night and dole out chicken-flavoured treats when his cat nudged the fridge door.
“I (will) remember him as my angel and my hero,” says Glen.