Dog honored for helping to save neighbor

Digger alerted his owner to injured neighbor in the snow

kward1@herald-leader.comMarch 23, 2011 

Teresa Oney's dog Digger might be a bit exasperating when it comes to the habit that gave him his name, but the beagle mix was just 10 months old when he helped Oney save an elderly neighbor's life.

Last winter, Digger woke his owner in the middle of the night and helped her find the 83-year-old woman, who had been lying in the snow outside for more than an hour.

Oney was honored with a Citizen Service Medal, and Digger received a squeaky toy and plaque recognizing his "Dogged Determination" earlier this month at the Lexington Division of Police's annual awards banquet.

Oney said that on the night of Feb. 9, 2010, Digger woke her at 2:15 a.m., whining to go out.

She said it was "snowing like crazy," and a few inches of snow were on the ground.

"I thought it was unusual that he wanted to go outside," she said. She told the pup he'd just have to wait; she had to work the next day and wanted to get some sleep.

But Digger wouldn't take no for an answer.

"He just kept whining and kept whining," Oney said.

Finally, she said, she let him outside, and what he did next baffled her.

He simply sat down on the deck and stared out toward the back-yard fence.

When Digger didn't come inside when she called him, Oney said, she went outside herself, planning to pull him in by his collar, but he just moved farther away from her and sat down again, staring at the same spot.

Under normal circumstances, Oney said, Digger is a barker, but he seemed to understand that if he barked in this case, his owner wouldn't be able to hear her neighbor's faint cries for help.

"He was just being very still and quiet," Oney said.

She said that as she turned to go back in to warm up (she said it was 27 degrees outside), she heard a voice.

"It was the same sound repeating over and over," she said. "Help. Help. Somebody help me."

She quickly figured out that it was the woman who lives alone in the house that backs up to hers. The woman has caregivers who stay with her, but no one was there that night.

Oney called 911 immediately, then drove to her neighbor's home because the fence prevented her from reaching the woman through the back yard.

Officers David Fetko and Marcus Sell, who have since been honored with the Division of Police's Life Saving Award, met Oney in front of the woman's house, and together they went into the back yard, where they found her lying face-down in the snow beside the fence, wearing only a short-sleeved nightgown.

She had head injuries and severe hypothermia, according to information from the Division of Police.

Oney said the woman apparently had become confused and gone outside, then she had slipped on the snow and ice.

Emergency workers said the woman was in critical condition when she was found and would have died from exposure if she hadn't been found before morning.

Oney said she is amazed that Digger was able to hear her neighbor in the first place because he sleeps in the bed with her, and the home's heat pump sits outside the bedroom window, running constantly.

"He knew something was wrong," Oney said.

Oney said she adopted Digger from The Haven for Dogs, a Lexington non-profit.

He was one of three shelter pets-turned-heroes featured in USA Today in December; in October, he was inducted into the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association's Kentucky Animal Hall of Fame.

"He's a good dog," Oney said, "except for all the holes that he digs."

Reach Karla Ward at (859) 231-3314 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3314.

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