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5 Incredible stories of dogs who’ve saved lives and souls through history

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Nikanos | CC SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 06/21/22

These helpful hounds prove how faithful and intelligent dogs can be.

There’s a very good reason that dogs are called “man’s best friend.” Not only do they provide comfort, entertainment, and a great reason to exercise, they’re also incredibly faithful.

So in honor of our four-legged friends, we wanted to share some beautiful stories of how dogs have truly earned their moniker as a “man’s best friend” throughout history.

The Domini canes

If you look at the iconography of St. Dominic, you’ll often see him accompanied by a dog. In fact when his mother, Blessed Jane of Aza, was pregnant, she had a dream in which a dog had a torch in his mouth and was running around the world setting it on fire. She went to a preacher to talk about the meaning of this unusual dream and he told her that it meant she would give birth to a great preacher “who would set the world ablaze with the fire of his word,” according to Catholic News Agency.

In fact the name of the Dominican Order itself makes a pun on the importance of this dream, with Domini canes being Latin for “dogs of the Lord.”

Interestingly, the dog that appeared in Blessed Jane’s dream is sometimes believed to be a greyhound, a dog bursting with energy that can run around spreading the Word of God at great speed. This would tally with the work of St. Dominic, who was said to have converted over 100,000 people throughout his missions.

The dog that saved St. Roch

The 14th-century St. Roch is actually the patron saint of dogs. When the Frenchman caught the plague he went into the forest to die. However, he was saved by a dog who not only licked his wounds to help him heal, but also brought him food from the table of his master, Count Gothard Palastreslli.

One day the nobleman followed his dog into the woods and discovered the frail St. Roch. He brought him back to his home and helped him regain strength. Sadly, not long after Roch returned to his native Montpelier, he was arrested for being a spy and put in prison where he died five years later after wasting away.

The compassionate dogs of Lazarus

You will no doubt remember the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. We hear of the wretched Lazarus, who’s lying in the streets having his sores licked by dogs. This act is open to interpretation. Some people think that Lazarus’ plight was so terrible that the behavior of the dogs can be viewed as a final insult to him.

However, other people interpret the story to mean that the dogs took pity on Lazarus and tried to heal his wounds by licking them. The compassion of the dogs was even greater than Lazarus’ fellow man, emphasizing the meaning behind the parable.

The mountain rescuer St. Bernard

You no doubt have seen pictures of the huge furry St. Bernard dog that carries a mini barrel of alcohol around his neck. Well, you might not know that it was thanks to monks in the Pennine Alps that this breed of dog became a mountain rescuer.

There is a snow-covered pass between Italy and Switzerland that was so dangerous an archdeacon, St. Bernard, built a canonry and hospice there in 1050 to welcome those seeking refuge. In 1660, the monks who were living there, cut off from the world for long periods of time, brought some dogs along to act as companions and watchdogs.

These clever mastiff-type dogs were able to detect if an avalanche was about to happen. They would guide the monks whenever they went out on journeys. A century later they also accompanied travelers, mainly pilgrims on their way to Rome, through the pass. It was quickly realized that these dogs had a strong sense of smell that could locate people buried under the snow.

Groups of dogs were sent out to find people. Once located, one dog would go back to the canonry and alert the monks, while the others would dig the person out and then cuddle up to them to offer some much-needed warmth.

It was only in 1880 that these dogs were given an official breed name — the St. Bernard — after the original monk who bravely offered care for travelers all those centuries ago. Over the years, the dogs are believed to have rescued over 2,000 people.

The pass was named after the monk, too — the Great St. Bernard Pass — and a smaller one is known as the Little St Bernard Pass.

The saintly dog named Guinefort

It’s incredible to think that there is actually a dog who is a folk saint. Tradition has it that a French greyhound was left to look after the son of a knight while he was hunting. When the knight returned he couldn’t find his son, the nursery was a mess, and Guinefort the dog was covered in blood. The knight assumed the worst and killed the dog straight away.

However, he soon heard the cries of his child and saw a dead viper covered in dog bites lying close to him. The knight picked up his faithful hound and put him in a well, covering him with stones to make a shrine. Locals came to venerate the martyr dog, hoping he would heal their ills.

While Guinefort was never officially recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church, of course, his story is charming and appeals to dog lovers, Christian or not.

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