In 2011, the news was filled with the achievements of intrepid men and women, but media attention wasn't limited to humans. Noteworthy dogs also made headlines for incredible feats, from surviving gas chambers to nailing Osama to walking on four bionic legs. Here are seven:
1. Chaser, the vocab champ
In January, a brilliant Border collie named Chaser set a new doggie-vocabulary world record when she demonstrated knowledge of the names of 1,022 unique objects — such as distinct balls and Frisbees — and could fetch them on command. The dog showed her mettle in a series of 838 tests over a three-year period, never scoring below 90 percent. Chaser's brilliant performance is largely credited to her owner and breeder, John W. Piley, who has spent several hours a day working with the dog since she was a puppy. "She still demands four to five hours a day," the 82-year-old says. "I have to go to bed to get away from her."
2. Opal, the guide dog for a guide dog
In March, the 2-year-old Labrador made news for her unique profession: Opal serves as a guide dog for a former guide dog. Six-year-old Edward, also a Labrador, was a loyal guide dog to Graham Waspe, a partially sighted man in England, until the pup lost his own sight to glaucoma. Man and dog were devastated. Enter Opal, who now helps them both around. "Opal's been great for both of us," Waspe says. "I don't know what we'd do without her."
3. The SEAL Team Six dog
As with his human comrades, we'll never know the name of the heroic pup that was part of the mission that stormed Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound in May and killed the al Qaeda leader. This we do know: He was likely a German shepherd or Belgian Malinois, he likely repelled out of a helicopter — just as courageously as the rest of his team — and he got to meet President Obama following the successful mission.
4. Rose, the star witness (helper)
In June, an 11-year-old golden retriever named Rose did her civic duty when she took to the witness stand, a fido first for New York state. Rose wasn't testifying herself; rather, she was there to comfort a 15-year-old victim of sexual abuse as the teen gave her testimony. After the defendant was convicted, defense lawyers filed an appeal, saying the dog had unfairly swayed the jury, part of a larger national debate about the place of service dogs in the courtroom.
5. Naki'o, the dog with four bionic legs
In June, a Red Heeler named Naki'o made the news when he bounded about on not one but four bionic legs. At five weeks old, the poor pup was abandoned by his family and wandered into an icy puddle, where his paws got stuck in the frigid water. All four frostbit paws had to be amputated, but a veterinary technician raised money to help get Naki'o a set of prosthetics. The dog responded so well to his prosthetic hind legs that the manufacturers gifted him a free pair for his front legs. "Naki'o can now not only chase after a ball with other dogs," says the vet tech Christie Tomlinson, "but he can beat them to the catch!"
6. Otis, the skydiving pug
In August, a 10-year-old daredevil dog from California made his 64th jump from a plane, strapped as usual to his owner Will DaSilva, earning Otis the unofficial title of "the ultimate skydiving pug" (as opposed to your less superlative skydiving pugs). Otis first took to skydiving as a pup, so much so that DaSilva had a special harness rigged to bind the dog to him for their free-falling adventures. While some question Otis's safety, DaSilva says his dog is more likely "to die of a food overdose, not from skydiving" — like any average pug.
7. Daniel (nee Otis), the gas chamber survivor
The 5-year-old beagle, first known as Otis, was headed to doggie heaven in October, but it wasn't his time. He was put in a gas chamber in a crowded Alabama shelter to be euthanized along with 18 other stray dogs. When the animal control officer opened the chamber to fetch the bodies, all of the dogs were dead, except for little Otis wagging his tail. After his miraculous survival, Otis was re-christened Daniel, after the biblical figure who was thrown in a den of lions and lived, and hundreds clamored to adopt him. He is now the poster pup for "Daniel's Law," a proposal to get pet gas-chambers banned in the state of Pennsylvania, as they are in other states.
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