The officer was trying to get to where he needed to be when he saw the shape on the road. At first, he wasn’t sure what it was, but closer inspection revealed it was a dog. Then, when the animal saw the officer, it took off. Did it want him to follow?
The aforementioned dog was Buddy, a German shepherd who lived with his human Ben Heinrichs. On April 4, 2010, Buddy became famous for his actions after disaster struck Heinrichs’ home in Anchorage, Alaska. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Buddy, Heinrichs could be homeless.
That’s because Heinrichs was at the center of a terrible accident involving his truck. But it wasn’t a vehicle crash that was the problem; the truck itself was stationary. In fact, Heinrichs was carrying out some everyday maintenance when things went drastically wrong.
During the work, a stray spark lit some nearby gasoline. The resulting fire then caught Heinrichs’ clothes, setting him alight. Heinrichs immediately dashed outside to douse the flames on the snowy ground, slamming the door behind him to try to prevent the fire from spreading further.
However, as the building burned, Heinrichs suddenly realized that his best friend Buddy wasn’t at his side. Heinrichs recounted the events in an interview with the TV series Extraordinary Dogs. “I got the fire off me, then I realized my dog was still inside,” he told the program.
Heinrichs subsequently went back to retrieve his faithful friend. Then, when owner and dog were both safe, something remarkable happened. “That’s when I said we need to find help, and then [Buddy] took off,” Heinrichs recalled. By that time, though, the neighbors had already caught wind of the blaze.
Consequently, both the state troopers and the fire service were called in to tackle the fire. And that’s where Alaskan trooper Terrence Shanigan enters the story. Shanigan was closest to the area when he received a panicked phone call for help, but there was a problem.
Shanigan’s GPS – his global positioning system – froze up at the most critical time. The trooper was driving through the area’s back roads, where a single wrong turn could leave him lost and stranded. All he could do was reduce his speed and wait for the station to send him directions.
However, despite Shanigan’s predicament, help arrived from an unlikely source. The trooper suddenly noticed something unusual in the darkness. “I saw just a shadow of something move, and to me, that seemed just a little bit odd,” Shanigan told Extraordinary Dogs. Subsequently, he went to investigate.
“As I came around the corner on that road,” he continued, “I saw that there was a German shepherd.” That’s when the trooper’s instincts kicked in; he knew that he had to follow Buddy. In fact, Shanigan said he didn’t even need to think about it.
“From that point on, I never really thought twice about what it was that we were both experiencing at the same time,” Shanigan explained. Buddy led the trooper all the way through the back roads. And, sure enough, Shanigan found the burning building just off the trail.
The subsequent events are a blur to Ben Heinrichs, but his mother Lynette can remember what followed. In an interview with Extraordinary Dogs, she described how Shanigan called the fire department. Apparently, he told them to look out for Buddy if they lost their way.
After the fire service dealt with the flames, the damage could be assessed. It turns out Heinrichs was lucky Buddy was there, as without the dog’s actions the man’s home would likely have burned down. His work shop was destroyed and the shed severely damaged. Furthermore, Heinrichs himself had also been injured by the flames.
Heinrichs had burns to both his hand and face, but thankfully there were no other major losses to either property or life. And, thanks to Buddy’s swift reactions, the German shepherd became a national hero. The dog even won an award from the Alaska State Troopers.
Buddy was presented with a silver dog bowl for his swift and courageous efforts. Alaska State Troopers chief Audie Holloway was full of praise for the dog. “Buddy’s valiant actions saved Trooper Shanigan valuable time in responding to the fire,” Holloway said.
“Buddy’s pluckiness is a bright spot among an otherwise tragic event for the Heinrichs family,” he added. Trooper Shanigan agreed completely. “The Heinrichses are lucky,” he said, “especially to find a dog that they’ve adopted and just to turn out like he has.”
“He’s very loyal – you can tell that just by the way he interacts with Ben and the family,” Shanigan continued. “I don’t know if he knows the significance of what he’s done. But definitely, there’s a lot of characteristics about Buddy that I don’t see in a lot of dogs.”
Not only did Buddy earn the respect of the Alaska State Troopers, but he also kept on giving. After the fire, Buddy and his owner made visits to several schools to talk about fire safety. Heinrichs said Buddy saved more than just his own house, too.
“Honestly, I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t for [Buddy],” Heinrichs explained. “I don’t want to imagine what could have happened. We would have lost everything and probably more damage would have been done to the neighborhood if it wasn’t for my dog.”
Tragically, Buddy developed liver cancer, and in January 2016 Heinrichs decided the kindest thing to do was to put the dog out of his misery. His owner will always remember Buddy as the loyalist of heroes, though. On February 11, 2016, he gave Alaska Public Media a touching eulogy. Heinrichs simply said, “He was a good dog.”