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Hero dog — Winter 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Stephen Brentlinger owes his life to his dog, Cookie, who stopped a bulldozer operator from inadvertently burying him in debris.

Rescued dog became the rescuer

By Hannah Wolfson
Photography by Leita Cowart

The Brentlinger family didn't really mean to get another dog. After all, they already had a grumpy old beagle, two cats, and two horses, plus chickens, goats, a rabbit, and hamsters.

But one look at the scruffy, scrawny pound puppy and Karen Brentlinger knew she had no choice.

"She just looked pitiful, but there was something in her eyes that won me," Brentlinger says. "I don't know; was there a premonition that she was going to save my son's life one day, this sweet little creature?"

The eventful day began about a year after the Schnauzer mix joined the family. Stephen, 11 at the time, decided on this warm winter day to watch a neighbor clear brush with a bulldozer. Although he had been warned to steer clear of the bulldozing area, he had built a secret fort near there and was worried that the big machinery would destroy his hard work.

Stephen hid behind a large stump that suddenly toppled onto him. He screamed as the weight of the stump and its roots crushed his legs and chest, but the bulldozer operator couldn't hear him over the noise of the machinery.

But Cookie, who was up the hill near the Brentlinger home, heard.

As the dozer pulled back for another push, she dashed toward Stephen and scrambled up a pile of debris many times her size, where she stared down the machine and barked her little head off.

The driver recognized Cookie as the neighbor's dog and stopped so he wouldn't run her over. Then he heard the boy's cries.

"Just seconds and he would have been covered and we never would have known," Brentlinger says. "Still, when I think how close we came to losing him ..." her voice trails off.

It took two hours for paramedics to dig Stephen out, and another 90 minutes to drive to the regional hospital in Columbus, GA. After surgery — the first of six — Stephen learned how Cookie saved him.

"I thought, thank goodness we got that dog from the pound," Stephen, now 12, says. When he came home from the hospital three months later, he gave her a pile of dog treats, a ride in his wheelchair, and "about 17 hugs."

The normally rambunctious dog seemed to know he needed special care. She cuddled gently in his lap, rather than the usual boisterous mauling, and slept with him on the pullout loveseat that became his bed.

"It seems whenever you would find Cookie, she would be with Stephen," Brentlinger says.

Months later, Stephen's walking again, despite a scare early on that he might lose his broken leg. He hopes to soon be running around the family's 9 acres and wants to return to karate, where he has a black belt.

He'll have at least one more surgery first, to take the hardware out of his leg. While he's recuperating, he'll have the opportunity to read the newest novel by a local children's author who befriended Stephen and used a version of his story in her latest book.

But for now, he's content to wrestle on the living room floor with Cookie, who sometimes wears a T-shirt that reads "Pretty Princess."

She's that — and much more — to Stephen, his mother says. "She's his hero."

Hannah Wolfson writes from Birmingham, AL.