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March 5, 2012

Dog of Valor: Ceili Came Through

2011 Dogs of Valor finalist saved Danny Fincher when he had a heart attack

  • Dog of Valor finalist Ceili saved owner Danny Fincher during his heart attack. Gayle Fincher

by Ruthanne Johnson

It was sleeting in Portland, Ore., the day Gayle Fincher noticed a puppy wandering in a grocery store parking lot. The dog would yelp and shy away whenever someone approached. After luring the little polka-dot-tongued Lab mix with treats, Fincher scooped her into her arms.

"She was soaked when Gayle brought her home," says her husband, Danny Fincher. "I said, 'Well, just give her to me.'" He wiped down the shivering pup and she cuddled in his lap.

The couple named her Ceili—an Irish word (pronounced KAY-lee) meaning "to dance"—because of how she bowed and pranced when their daughter practiced Irish dancing. They fell in love with her soft, expressive ears and the way birds rested unafraid on her back and between her front paws when she sunned outside.

It was nearly 16 years ago when they found her, and the music business was jamming for Danny, a professional saxophone player. But in tough economic times, the couple has struggled to stay afloat.

Do you know a brave dog? Share the story!

In 2010, they were considering giving up their beloved friend, a heart-wrenching decision that Gayle shared with a social worker at her doctor's office. Unable to afford food for Ceili or their cat, Binka, they didn’t know what else to do. The woman told her about a Portland-based pet food bank called The Pongo Fund, saving them from such a decision.

Later that year, one sweltering mid-August morning, Danny awoke exhausted. Fans were running everywhere to help cool the house, but still he felt lethargic. Wherever Danny went, Ceili went too, smelling his breath and licking his arms and legs.

"We thought it was because it was hot and we were sweaty," Gayle says. Ceili’s attention was so focused that Danny couldn’t help but feel irritated.

As he readied for bed later that night, Ceili's attention intensified. "She kept getting in his way," Gayle says. She even tugged at his clothes while he brushed his teeth.

When Danny started upstairs, Ceili pulled on his shorts.

"She yanked me down the stairs," he says. "If I tried again, she would drag me back down."

In desperation, Ceili pulled off one of his shoes.

Then the heart attack hit. "I'm on fire!” Danny yelled. "I can't breathe!"

When Danny arrived at the hospital, his blood pressure was through the roof. The doctor later told Gayle that he had minutes before it would have been too late to save him.

After having quadruple bypass surgery, Danny convalesced for nearly two months away from home.

While he was gone, Ceili was planted by the door. To soothe the depressed dog, Gayle placed several of Danny's shirts around the house for her to lie on. "She went nuts when he came home … leaping around."

Danny's joy was equal. "When I came home, I grabbed that dog and held onto her," he says.

These days, Danny and Ceili are inseparable. He sleeps downstairs because the arthritic 16-year-old dog can no longer walk upstairs. It's his turn to be the hero.

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