How bloodied hero dog’s 200m sprint saved dying owner
There are not many moments of the day when Max, the Siberian husky, leaves the side of his owner Shaune Martin. Max follows her constantly. He lies beside her if she feels unwell, protective and intuitive to her feelings. He is bonded to his owner in a strong and special way.
In October 2019, Max saved Martin's life in a devastating, life-changing accident that left Martin within a whisker of death. What Max did on that horrific day is incredible. And in every sense of the word, Max is a hero.
On that late afternoon, Martin got home from her job as an office administrator for Boeing at RAAF base Amberley and set out on one of her regular runs with Max, taking one of several routes around her Augustine Heights neighbourhood in Ipswich, southwest of Brisbane.
But Martin suffered shocking injuries when, while running on a footpath on a tree-lined street, she was struck from behind by a car and propelled face first into a rock retaining wall.
Every bone in Martin's face was broken - her skull, cheekbones, eye sockets, both jawlines, nose and five teeth - requiring 11 hours of facial reconstructive surgery. Her right hip, pelvis and wrist were also broken, her liver was ruptured and she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
The car that struck her, a silver Honda CRV, ended up about 100m further up the road on its roof. But most worryingly, a tree felled in the incident obscured Martin from being seen by passing motorists and police who were attending to the driver of the upturned car. Martin was dying on the pathway but no one knew she was there.
Then aged 18 months, Max ran 200m back to his home, to Martin's fiance David Symes, who was horrified to see an agitated Max return alone and covered in blood. Symes picked up Max's lead and the dog pulled him urgently along, directly back to where Martin lay undetected.
When paramedics tended to Martin, her injuries were so severe, they estimated she was perhaps 10 minutes from death.
Max has been formally recognised for his incredible and intelligent actions with an RSPCA Animal Hero Award.
Symes, 31, who works in IT support for the Australian Defence Force, has no doubt Max saved Martin's life that day.
"If it wasn't for Max, she wouldn't have made it," he says. "It is incredible, really, what Max did. I still can't believe it to this day.
"For a dog, he could have easily run away scared or even just stayed by her side. But he knew she needed help and he knew to come home and get me. He knew what needed to be done. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
Martin spent 27 days in a coma in intensive care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital and another 44 days in the hospital's Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit.
She has lost most of her vision and hearing, suffers chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, constant head pain and still regularly undergoes medical treatment including speech therapy and psychiatric appointments.
She will never be able to drive a car again or return to her previous work duties. Martin also has no memory from about one week before the incident until about two months afterwards.
Martin says her life dramatically changed that day. "A traumatic brain injury is a life-long injury and I will forever be needing medical attention,'' she says.
"I try my best everyday to do everything I can within my limitations and I am just grateful to still be here today with Max by my side.
"There is definitely a special bond between us. Max is my true hero and he is always with me making sure I'm ok. He knows when I'm struggling and will stay by my side the whole day until I'm feeling better. I am so proud of him for being such a loyal dog.''
Incredibly, Max was physically uninjured in the incident. He suffers some anxiety, especially if he hears a vehicle approaching from behind.
"While Shaune was in hospital, Max was very depressed and quite sad. I suppose he would have thought she had died," Symes says. "These dogs are very intelligent. He was also there for me while Shaune was in hospital. I know we would both feel lost without him."
Hero pets come in all shapes and sizes.
Most recently, Eric, a green parrot, alerted his owner Anton Nyugen to the danger of a house fire at Kangaroo Point in inner city Brisbane, in November. Calling "Anton! Anton!'' the bird squawked his owner awake.
Firefighters say Nyugen and Eric were lucky to escape unharmed in the fierce blaze that destroyed the Salstone St house. They arrived at the blaze, which quickly engulfed the whole property, just after 2am. At the scene, QFES acting inspector Cam Thomas said the parrot alerted Nyugen before the smoke alarms activated.
In 2018, a 17-year-old blue heeler dog named Max remained by the side of a three-year-old girl who was lost and missing for more than 15 hours in rugged bushland in Queensland's Southern Downs, south of Warwick.
Family members found Max first, and he then led them straight to the little girl who was safe and well. Max was named an honorary police dog for his good work.
In 2016, Snoopy the beagle was credited with saving an Acacia Ridge family from a house fire. Firefighters at the time said the blaze was so intense that it initially contained very little smoke and Snoopy's barking to wake the family was critical. The RSPCA awarded Snoopy with an Animal Achievement Award for his efforts.
In 2010, Rhonda Watson, of Glamorgan Vale, 60km west of Brisbane, almost died after a normally placid 700kg Poll Hereford bull, believed to be crazed from tick fever, trampled her on the 32ha hobby farm she shares with her husband Allen, 73. The bull charged Watson, 65, smashing her left knee and rendering her briefly unconscious. She woke, face down on the ground, with the bull stomping on her back.
That's when her eight-year-old faithful labrador-border collie cross dog Sam sprang into action, biting at the bull's head and diverting his attention. Allen then came to assist but the bull then turned on him. "The bull picked Allen up under his bum and threw him into the dam. Then the bull went in after him into the dam. He was really crazy," Watson says.
"Allen got out of the dam and managed to get me into the car and took me to the hospital. Doctors were looking at my knee but when I told them the bull had been stomping on my back, they were very worried about my ribs and lungs and heart. I was black and blue.
"If Sam hadn't got the bull off me when he did, he would have killed me. Without a doubt, I know he saved my life."
Watson underwent knee reconstruction surgery and was in a wheelchair for three months while she recovered. Sam, who was also honoured with an RSPCA Animal Achievement Award, remained Watson's loyal companion until January last year when he passed away aged 18.
"He was very special to me … we haven't felt able to replace him with another dog as yet," Watson says. "We talk about how amazing he was, we were lucky to have him for so long."
RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty says the number of publicly recognised hero animals would only be a fraction of the real number.
"Without a doubt there would be many more stories of animals helping humans that we never hear about. Only a few people come forward," he says. "There have been incredible stories of animals demonstrating bravery and saving their human family members. Dogs, in particular, have gone to fetch help if their owner has had an accident or suffered a stroke or had a serious fall. They have even run back into a burning house to try and rescue their owners.
"I believe animals are much more intelligent and intuitive than we often give them credit for. They have that sixth sense."
Head of behaviour at RSPCA's Wacol Animal Care Centre Kirsty Nalvarte says we are learning more about the strength of the human-animal bond all of the time. "Studies conducted using MRI scans showed that the dog's brain when being petted looks similar to a human's response when seeing the person they love," she says. "Animals are certainly more intelligent than we give them credit for. They've become very good at reading our cues and responding accordingly. We're seeing more and more animals helping humans to overcome physical and mental challenges."
Today, Martin is doing better than medical specialists believed possible. "Shaune is not the same person anymore but doctors are amazed how well she is doing,'' he says.
"She won't go out in public unless I'm there; she is much less social. But she's still happy and I can't be any prouder of how she has come through and still manages to smile. She just keeps doing her best to smile and be happy.''
The driver of the vehicle that struck Martin, Ashna Aravindan, 32, from Augustine Heights, faced the Ipswich Magistrates Court in October last year, pleading guilty to driving without due care and attention causing grievous bodily harm. Aravindan, a meat technician and mother of two who arrived in Australia from India in 2010, was not interviewed by police until June 2020 and told investigators she was unaware she had struck a pedestrian. She had no previous traffic history, has since completed a road traffic offender program and has written a letter of apology. Magistrate Andy Cridland recorded a conviction against Aravindan, disqualifying her from driving for six months and sentencing her to two months' jail suspended for nine months.
Symes and Martin, who have been a couple for about five years, met when they were both serving in the RAAF in the Middle East - Martin was in administration and Symes in IT.
They planned to marry in April last year but, due to COVID, rescheduled to September. This was postponed again due to Martin's health difficulties. They now plan to wed in April.
They have also recently welcomed a second husky called Harry into their home, a gift from the same breeder that sold them Max.
"When I'm at work and it is just Shaune and Max at home, Max follows her everywhere,'' Symes says. "He doesn't let her out of his sight. It's a really special thing they share.''
Originally published as '10 mins from death': How bloodied hero dog's 200m sprint saved dying owner