Heroes. They come in all shapes and sizes. They even come in different colors covered with fur.
Some of them we recognize easily as heroes. Usually, the cape and tights and the Superhero glint in their eyes give it away. Others walk among us on the street and we never even notice.
Some heroes, like firefighters and policemen, are heroes every day just carrying out their duties. Other heroes only have to make one outstanding effort to be justified in carrying that label for life.
The latter is the case for a special little dog in Melbourne, Australia. He had never shown much talent for heroism.
Up until that one fateful night, he had only had a single job to do. And it wasn’t all that heroic. His job was to make his family happy just by being himself. Being Little Leo.
Then that night their house caught on fire. Everyone was home so there was a mad rush to get the whole family outside to safety.
Once they were all outside, they hugged each other, grateful to all be alive. But, when they did a head count they realized that not everyone was there. Although mom and the three children had made it outside alive and one of their dogs, Barney, had escaped the flames when they did, Little Leo was still inside.
Firefighters arrived about that time and started taking care of business. They had to dodge fallen power lines just getting close enough to the house for their hoses to reach the flames.
The fire was brilliant in the darkness of the night, illuminating the anxious family calling in vain for their Leo. There was no answering bark. No Little Leo.
Some of the firefighters stayed outside and began to fight the hungry blaze. One took care of the family, giving special medical attention to the 11-year-old girl that suffered from smoke inhalation.
Her mother, a five-year-old sister, and an 18-year-old brother made it out of the house with no ill effects.
Still other heroes in fireproof clothing and armed with axes heeded the panicked pleas from the family that Leo was still inside. They headed into the flames on a search and rescue mission.
While rescuing animals isn’t in their job description, they weren’t about to let anyone die on their watch. Not even a little dog.
At first, there was no sign. They were about to give up hope. Then one of the firefighters looked into a smoke filled room and yelled that he thought he saw something lying on the floor.
He went closer and there was Leo. He had succumbed to the smoke and was curled into a little ball on the floor. He wasn’t moving and didn’t respond to the fireman’s shouts and touch. At first, the fireman thought he was dead.
Then he saw Leo’s ribs move slightly and realized that he was still breathing. He picked up the little body and what he saw beneath had him quickly yelling for another fireman to come and help him.
Leo had risked death to stay behind and protect four tiny newborn kittens. They were too young to understand the danger. They didn’t even have their eyes open yet.
He had curled himself around them and kept them safe from flames, sparks and smoke. They were weak and barely moving, but they were alive and conscious.
The firemen gently carried a still-unconscious Leo and the four weak kittens back through the smoke and flames to safety. After a generous amount of oxygen therapy, all five of the animals started moving again and appeared to be recovering nicely from the trauma.
Leo was happy to see his human family, but he kept whimpering and looking around. At first they thought he might have an injury that they couldn’t see.The firemen checked him out, but could find nothing wrong.
Finally one of the firemen realized that Leo was looking for his kittens. He brought the little bundles of fuzz over to Leo so he could examine them.
After giving them all a good bath and checking them out to be sure.
Before long the family cat that had been missing before the fire came up to the family. They took her to where her kittens were recuperating and she gave them the only thing that Little Leo couldn’t provide. Their dinner.
If animals do talk to each other, and I think they do, I’m sure that as that mama kitty cleaned and fed her babies, she was thanking Little Leo from the bottom of her furry little heart for taking care of them so well.
And I’m pretty sure Little Leo would have replied in dog talk, with a chest puffed out from all of the accolades, “Aw shucks ma’am. It was nothing.” That’s just what heroes do.