Judy Cooper’s heart melted as she gazed at the picture of an Australian shepherd/heeler mix on the pet rescue website. “Jim, look!” she squealed, calling her husband over. The Sandy, Utah, couple had recently lost their beloved border collie after 16 years, and Judy was looking to fill the void in their lives.
Still, at their ages — Judy was 73; Jim, 83 — Jim wasn’t so sure a puppy, especially a high-energy breed, was a great idea. “But those eyes!” Judy said dreamily, and Jim smiled. They named her Thibodeaux, for the Louisiana town where they’d once lived.
But in the coming weeks, as Thibodeaux failed several rounds of obedience training and refused to be housebroken, Judy found herself thinking, Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Normally, Judy and Jim crated Thibodeaux at night. But one night, they decided to let her sleep with them. At first, typical Thibodeaux hopped back and forth between them on the bed. But finally, she settled down and all three drifted off to sleep. But a few hours later, Judy was startled awake by a strange himpering sound and when she turned on the lamp, she found Thibodeaux standing on all fours atop Jim’s chest!
“Dear God!” she gasped, seeing Jim’s right arm standing straight up, his hand balled in a fist. “What’s wrong?” Judy asked, but Jim — who has pulmonary fibrosis, a serious lung condition — wasn’t responding. Judy quickly dialed 911.
At the hospital, scans revealed Jim had suffered both a stroke and a seizure. “You are very fortunate to have discovered him in time. By morning, it would have been too late,” doctors told Judy. And suddenly, she realized: The only reason she had woken up was because of Thibodeaux.
Thank you, little girl! Judy beamed when she got home. After several days in the ICU, Jim was able to go home and thank Thibodeaux himself. Jim completely recovered and, with 24/7 oxygen, his pulmonary condition remained under control. “We weren’t really sure about Thibodeaux,” Jim admits. “But now we wouldn’t give her up for anything. She saved my life!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Animal Heroes.