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March 5, 2012

Dog of Valor: Wyatt Earp, a Dog Who Stood by His Man

2011 Dogs of Valor finalist's sentry duty saved his owner’s life

  • Dogs of Valor finalist Wyatt Earp stood guard over Don Callahan after a diabetic collapse. Don Callahan

by Ruthanne Johnson

As Marlene Burgess stepped outside of her condo in Royal Oaks, Mich., one cold January night in 2010, she noticed a lone dog sitting under a streetlight across the busy four-lane street.

"He wasn't moving even though cars were going by and fire trucks," remembers Burgess.

Thinking the dog was hurt, she called the police. After nearly 20 minutes with no response, she and a neighbor crossed the street to see what was up.

The streetlight haloed the dog, who growled a soft warning as the two women approached. Then Burgess noticed his red leash.

"I thought someone must have been walking him and he got away," she says. Peering into the darkness, she saw a shape loom into focus about 20 feet away.

In the pitch black, lying prostrate on the ground, was Don Callahan, a 72-year-old diabetic who'd collapsed while walking Wyatt. His implanted glucometer had stopped working that night, failing to detect that his blood sugar had plummeted. When the EMTs arrived, his glucose level was only 34.

A retired K-9 police handler, Callahan had first set eyes on the 70-pound Airedale-Irish wolfhound mix at a 2004 adoption fair. When he saw the 1-year old pooch, he couldn't resist. After making sure Wyatt was cat-compatible, Callahan signed the papers.

"On the way home, he stood in the back seat of the car with his head alongside of me, and he’s been my buddy ever since."

Wyatt's heroic tendencies first surfaced after Callahan was hit by a car while walking across the street in 2008. Now Wyatt protectively positions himself on Callahan's traffic side. And whenever Callahan's glucometer reflects a drop in his blood sugar, Wyatt heeds his owner's command to lead him home.

When Callahan returned from three days in the hospital after his January fall, he was greeted with nonstop tail wags and wiggles.

"I thank God every day for Wyatt," he says.

Burgess ended up meeting Callahan when Wyatt's heroism made the local TV news—where he was christened with the moniker Wyatt Earp. Burgess' sister saw the story and called to let her know that Callahan wanted to meet the Good Samaritan who'd called the police. She walked across the street as the story was being filmed live and was ushered to Callahan's home.

"Don just kept saying thank you," Burgess says. "And I said, 'It wasn't me. It was Wyatt.'"

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