ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Buddy the German shepherd was hailed Friday as a hero for guiding Alaska State Troopers through winding back roads to a fire at his owners' workshop.
"Buddy is an untrained dog who for some reason recognized the severity of the situation and acted valiantly in getting help for his family," Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers, said Friday at a ceremony for the 5-year-old dog, who stood quietly before an adoring crowd.
Buddy, whose good deed was caught on a patrol car's dashcam video, received a stainless steel dog bowl engraved with words of appreciation from troopers for his "diligence and assistance." Buddy also received a big rawhide bone, and his human family got a framed letter documenting his efforts.
"He's my hero," owner Ben Heinrichs said, his voice breaking.
"If it wasn't for him, we would have lost our house." The dashcam video shows Buddy meeting the trooper's vehicle, then dashing to their property about 55 miles north of Anchorage on April 4.
Heinrichs said he was working on parts for his truck when a spark hit some gasoline and ignited, lighting his clothes blaze.
The 23-year-old man ran outside to stomp out the flames by rolling in the snow, closing the door to keep the blaze from spreading.
Heinrichs then realized Buddy was still inside the burning building and let the dog out. Heinrichs suffered minor burns on his face and second-degree burns on his left hand, which was still heavily bandaged Friday.
Buddy was not injured.
"I just took off running," Heinrichs said. "I said we need to get help, and he just took off." Buddy ran into the nearby woods and onto Caswell Loop Road, where the dog encountered the trooper, Terrence Shanigan, whose global positioning device had failed while responding to a call about the fire. He was working with dispatchers to find the property in an area with about 75 miles of back roads.
Shanigan was about to make a wrong turn when he saw a shadow up the road. His vehicle lights caught Buddy at an intersection, and the dog eyed the trooper and began running down a side road.
"He wasn't running from me, but was leading me," he said. "I just felt like I was being led . . . it's just one of those things that we're thinking on the same page for that brief moment." The video shows Buddy occasionally looking back at the patrol car as he raced ahead, galloping around three turns before arriving in front of the blaze, which was very close to the Heinrichs' home.
The workshop was destroyed and a shed was heavily damaged, but only some window trim on the house was scorched.
The Heinrich family said they knew Buddy was smart ever since they got him six weeks after he was born to a canine-officer mother and that he was brave, twice chasing bears away while Ben Heinrichs was fishing.
But saving their home beat them all.
"Downright amazing, I would say," said Tom Heinrichs, Ben's father.
"Maybe there was some divine intervention."