Somehow, calling your dog your best friend can still totally undersell just how much your beloved pooch means to you. In fact, if you asked Wisconsin’s Stephanie Herfel about her husky, she would say her dog’s her guardian angel.
When her loyal husky started acting up, Stephanie knew it was a sign something was seriously wrong. However, once she found out what exactly had led to her pooch’s strange behavior, the two of them had to embark on a painful quest to solve it — before it was too late.
Between her stints as a Marine and a mom, Stephanie Herfel was tough as nails. Still, she couldn’t help but feel sad to see her son go overseas with the Air Force. But there was one part of his departure he didn’t tell her about until the last minute.
Stephanie’s son didn’t want her to feel too lonely while he was away, so he arranged a special gift for her. He entered their California home one morning with a smile spreading ear to ear.
Facebook / Stephanie Herfel
He presented her with Sierra, a 9-month-old husky! Stephanie and Sierra became fast friends, and their bond only deepened over the years. Sierra accompanied Stephanie and her husband Jim on a cross-country move to Wisconsin in 2013 without a whimper.
In the back of her mind, Stephanie always knew that Sierra was a very special dog. However, she was about to find out exactly how unique Sierra was — and thank goodness for that…
One afternoon in 2013, Stephanie began experiencing some pain and discomfort in her stomach. She figured she’d just eaten something bad and was suffering through some bad food poisoning. When the sensation continued after several days, she visited her doctor.
Stephanie’s doctor brushed off her concerns, saying at worst she was dealing with an ovarian cyst. He sent her home with some pain medication, which would, he thought, set her right as rain.
Once Stephanie returned from the doctor, Sierra perked up. That part wasn’t unusual. At the same time, though, the husky appeared to be more energized than most days. What was up with Sierra?
Sierra joined Stephanie on the couch and immediately thrust her nose into Stephanie’s abdomen. Taken aback, she tried to slide away from the dog. Sierra refused to give up, however, and kept sniffing.
In all her years with Sierra, Stephanie had never seen the husky act like this before. Maybe she’d spilled something on her clothes and hadn’t noticed? Before she had a chance to check, Sierra bolted from the room.
Completely baffled, Stephanie followed the dog’s trail through the house. She found her huddled into a ball in the back of a closet. Clearly, Sierra was trying to express that something was wrong, but what could it be?
YouTube / Lunatic the Husky and April
By this point, Stephanie trusted her dog more than anyone else on Earth. She couldn’t help but think back to her abdominal issues. Perhaps, through some miracle, Sierra knew something that nobody else did.
So Stephanie scheduled another doctor’s visit, and there, Stephanie’s worst fears were realized: tests showed that she had ovarian cancer, which reached a pretty advanced stage! They would have to act fast to save Stephanie’s life.
In addition to chemotherapy, Stephanie underwent a hysterectomy and a spleen removal surgery in 2014. These procedures put a lot of stress on the Herfel family, but at least Stephanie had her trusty dog at her side during her recovery.
To no one’s surprise, Stephanie bounced back! The next year passed without much to write home about, which was fine by her. Stephanie was ready to move onto the next chapter of her life…until Sierra began acting strangely once again.
Just like on the day of Stephanie’s botched doctor visit, Sierra intently smelled her owner’s body and sprinted away. Stephanie ran to the doctor, and sure enough, her cancer had returned!
And so it was Stephanie went through another round of treatment. Doctors once again gave her the all clear. A year later, though, yet again, Sierra went wild and sniffed Stephanie’s abdomen!
For a third time, Sierra correctly diagnosed a tumor inside Stephanie. Treatment. Release. Recovery. Rinse and repeat. Surely, she must’ve thought, this would be the last diagnosis.
Well, as of 2018, she’s been cancer-free ever since! Leaving that dingy hospital bed behind, Stephanie wanted to return to her life and help others suffering from disease. But she couldn’t help but wonder: how did Sierra know?
Doctor David Kushner, Stephanie’s primary oncologist, had a theory. He explained that certain dog breeds can detect chemical traces given off by tumors with an accuracy of up to 98 percent.
Stephanie and Jim were lucky enough to own a canine with this special gift. They decided not to squander their good fortune. They went public about their amazing story, hoping it could help other people who went undiagnosed.
Stephanie also got involved with the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance, where she eventually rose to a seat on the board. Sierra is a pretty big local celebrity to everyone in the organization too.
Ultimately, Stephanie said, “Just to give the animals credit that they are pretty smart.” She’d heard stories of other dogs that saved a humans’ lives. Some of them were almost impossible to believe.
Like the story of Amelia Milling, left. She may be deaf, but she’s always up for a challenge. Indeed, the Tennessee native attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate New York, and constantly pushed herself to do the extreme. She as a big beneficiary of dogs’ intelligence.
John Garay / Facebook
In the summer of 2017, Amelia spent time hiking through and camping in the gorgeous national parks offered out west — nothing too serious, however. In 2018, though, she planned to outdo herself.
On June 19, 2018, Amelia packed her bags—including an emergency tracker device her mother insisted she bring—and headed to Chugach State Park, right, an expanse of rocky mountain and serene rivers about 30 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.
There, she hiked on her own along winding mountain paths, which, she noted, taxed her far more than she’d expected. As a Southerner, she hadn’t considered there’d still be snow in June. So she changed her plans.
On the second day of her trip, she descended into the Eagle River Valley. Just four miles into the hike, her walking sticks snapped in two. She slid for 300 feet, smashed into a boulder, then fell another 400 feet down a snowy, gradual slope.
The 21-year-old ended up bleeding and broken, looking up at the mountains—a very dramatic moment. Facing death, the only thing she could think of was that her dream vacation was over. Then she saw something terrifying.
A wolf “appeared out of no where,” and watched her in her state of weakness. Hardly able to stand—and with no one around—she stood no chance against a wolf. But then, she noticed something around the animal’s neck that gave her relief.
What she thought was a wolf wore a bone tag that read “Crow Pass Guide,” along with an address. It was then she knew this was no wolf, but a white husky named Nanook. He’d come to rescue her.
Nanook “gave me the motivation to get up and walk,” Amelia said. So she did just that. With the white husky at her side, she walked back to the trail. When night fell, she set up a tent and invited Nanook inside. The dog declined.
But the dog didn’t go anywhere. “I realized he really was sticking with me when he greeted me in the morning when I unzipped my tent,” Amelia said. “He had stayed the entire night next to me.” He offered more help, too.
Along the trail, Amelia and Nanook encountered the Eagle River crossing: a roiling, swirling, and freezing point of the river. Amelia tried twice to cross it. On the second time, she slipped, and the water pulled her under.
After 15 minutes caught in the swell, Amelia bolted back toward the shore. Nanook had grabbed her backpack and pulled her to safety. Afraid of hypothermia, Amelia curled up into her sleeping bag. There, Nanook kept licking her face.
In fact, he licked her face until she remembered the emergency tracker her mother made her take on the hike. When prompted by Nanook, she activated it, sending alerts to Alaska State Troopers.
Several hours later, trained rescue workers descended on her location in a helicopter before scooping the miserable Amelia and her canine companion up. Rescuers brought Amelia to an Anchorage hospital.
Alaska State Troopers / Facebook
When Amelia recounted her story, the troopers were floored. “Nookie was nothing short of a modern-day Lassie hero,” one rescuer, Alaska State Trooper Lt. Eric Olsen, said. Inspired by the pooch, Lieutenant Olsen personally brought the dog home.
There, the trooper met Scott Swift, Nanook’s owner, left. When he heard what his dog had been up to the past 24 hours? “I was definitely pretty floored,” he said. “It sends chills up my spine when I think about it. I certainly didn’t train him to do anything like this.”
Scott continued, “It’s a pretty powerful feeling that this dog had this instinctual ability to want to go help people.” The state of Alaska recognized that, too, and gave Nanook a special honor for his work…
For his heroics, Nanook was made an honorary Alaska State Trooper! The “free spirit” dog would no doubt look good in the uniform. Amelia couldn’t have been happier for her savior.
Amelia recovered in Anchorage and actually continued the dream vacation she once thought would end violently. She did, however, take plenty of time away from hiking to spoil Nanook with lots and lots of treats!
Amelia was extremely lucky to have Nanook come to her rescue. In a wild region like the Alaskan wilderness, having a loyal companion to get you through can be a critical factor for survival. And that is definitely the case when it comes to the brutalist of climates: Siberia.
Four-year-old Karina Chikitova lived in a remote Siberian village in the far east region called The Sakha Republic. There, she shared a small home with her father, mother, grandmother, and her dog, Naida.
Like most kids her age, Karina was energized by a youthful curiosity, that urge to explore and know and understand. Which was why, in July 2014, she followed her father, Rodion, on an expedition into a part of the Siberian wilderness also known as the taiga.
Now this decision was problematic for a few different reasons. The first reason being that the taiga is very much an animal kingdom, dominated by bears, tigers, and wolves with really sharp teeth and an appetite for people.
The second problem with Karina’s decision was that she had not told her grandmother — the person charged with watching her at the time — that she would be following her dad into the bear-infested wilderness.
In fact, she hadn’t even told her dad that she would be following him. So literally no one on the planet knew that this four-year-old girl was diving headstrong into the most dangerous territory on the planet. No person, at least.
Karina did have a companion at her side: Naida, the family dog. That, evidently, was all the comfort the little girl needed, but it was little comfort to her mother, Talina, when she realized her little girl and the dog were both missing.
At first, Talina figured her youngster and the dog followed Rodion to his native village, but Siberia wasn’t exactly flooded with quality LTE, so she couldn’t pull out a cellphone and check. Instead, she waited to hear from her husband.
In the meantime, Karina, followed her father until she somehow managed to lose his trail. Her dad disappeared from view leaving her very much stranded in Siberia with Naida. And the bears. And the wolves.
It took four days of waiting for mother Talina to learn that, no, her daughter was not with her husband in his home village. No stranger to Siberia, she understood this to be a very bad thing, so she alerted authorities.
Radio Free Europe
They deployed a 100-person rescue team to head out into Siberian wilds to find her. The team carried rifles to fend off bears (yeah, there were that many bears in the woods).
Helicopters sliced the sky and rescue workers on foot combed through the trees and tall grass, but their search proved fruitless: Karina was nowhere to be seen. But then, nine days after she went missing, authorities found a clue.
More specifically, a clue walked right up to the authorities and introduced herself. Naida returned to her home — but Karina was not with her! What should’ve been a hopeful moment only seemed to confirm Talina’s worst thoughts.
“If she was to hug her puppy,” Talina said, “we thought, ‘this would have given her a chance to…survive.’ So when her dog came back we thought ‘that’s it.’ Even if she was alive — and chances were slim — now she would have definitely have lost all hope.”
But Naida hadn’t just wandered absentmindedly home. She seemed eager to show the desperate family and the rescue crew something important. The dog headed the group of rescuers and led them into the wilderness…
The dog led authorities to a spot in the wilderness, but none of them saw Karina there. Naida, it seemed, couldn’t find the exact area where she’d left the little girl! Authorities wondered if they were anywhere near her at all.
But three days later — 12 days after Karina first went missing — rescue workers spotted a child-sized footprint on a river bed beside a dog’s paw print. The footprint revealed Karina was barefoot, a crucial detail for investigators.
This told rescue workers that Karina likely was not in the woods. Too many sharp sticks there would’ve been a nightmare on her feet. This narrowed their search down considerably, and the following morning, they executed that new search plan.
And sure enough, just 20 meters from where they started searching, one rescue worker noticed a peculiar lump tucked away in a patch of tall grass. The whole crew rushed over.
They found her nestled in the grass. She was starving, thirsty, exhausted, and covered in mosquito bites, but nevertheless alive. They brought her tea before carrying her to a car and whisking her away to the nearest hospital.
The child spent some time in the hospital, but physicians determined there wouldn’t be any lasting damage. A psychologist examined her mental state and found, shockingly, her mind was in a good place. Talk about mental fortitude.
So how did a four-year-old girl survive in the Siberian wilderness? The little girl told reporters and her family that she survived off wild berries and river water.
Then, of course, there was Naida, the lovable canine that gave her warmth at night and companionship in the daytime. The two reunited for the first time back at home when the hospital released Karina. The meeting did not go as expected.
When Karina first saw her dog, she looked her in the eyes and chided, “why did you leave me?” Those three days of solitude must’ve really affected the little girl. But eventually, she came to understand what the dog did for her.
“It was Naida who rescued me,” Karina said sometime later. “I was really, really scared. But when we were going to sleep I hugged her, and together we were warm.”
Karina’s story gripped everyone watching, and locals even erected a statue of the girl and her pooch to celebrate their strength and will to survive. Not bad for a four-year-old and her dog, huh?
In the end, Karina made a full recovery, and by 2018, attended a ballet boarding school 350 miles away from the village she’d wandered away from all those years ago. Her teachers believed she had the talent to compete in Russia’s competitive ballet scene.
“When she just started her classes, Karina was very reserved,” a boarding school leader said. “She has changed so much and became a lot more open, sociable, friendly and independent. She made many friends who love her lots.”
But even as she danced like an expert and earned friends with her exuberant personality, she would never forget the friend that made it all possible: Naida, the loyal canine.