It was Christmas Eve 1976 when Howard and Fern Carlson returned to their home in Granite Falls, Washington State, in the north-western part of the United States. Here they found a young, abandoned, injured, whimpering dog, who had been left on their grounds.

“Our old German shepherd had died just a few weeks earlier,” Mrs Carlson recalled afterwards, “and I was determined we weren’t going to have another dog. The loss had been too great. But it was cold and the poor animal was hurt, so we decided to take him in for a few days.”

It was to prove a most fortunate decision for the family.

From the start, Mrs Carlson could see there was something special about this mixed-breed dog, who was given the name King.

King and Mrs Carlson’s daughter Pearl, then aged 10, immediately became inseparable. King had a wonderful temperament and loved children.

Then on Christmas Eve the unthinkable occurred. The family were all asleep and King was in the playroom. A sliding glass door was left ajar so he could go out when he desired.

A fire broke out

Suddenly, a fire flared up in the utility room, which separated the playroom from the rest of the house. King immediately sensed the danger. Instead of running outside to safety, he fought his way into the fire, clawing and chewing through a plywood door that barred him from the blazing utility room.

Once through the door, King raced through the smoke and flames into Pearl’s bedroom. With her safely aroused, Pearl was able to awaken the rest of the family.

However, Mr Carlson was only just back from the hospital, where he had been admitted after an emphysema attack. In the confusion, Mrs Carlson called to her daughter Pearl that their best chance was to go out her window. Mrs Carlson followed her out, presuming her husband was behind.

Once outside, they could hear barking from inside the house. Mrs Carlson climbed back and found Mr Carlson had slipped and was on the floor, with King beside him barking furiously. The smoke now was very bad, but Mrs Carlson managed to get her husband up and King led them both to the window where they then managed to escape.

King’s paws and legs were badly burned, his mouth punctured with splinters and there was a long gash on his back from the plywood door.

“King was the best Christmas present we ever received,” said Mrs Carlson following the trauma.

“When he joined our family, we never guessed he would save our lives.”

Heroic dog award

Like several other dog food brands in the US, Ken-L Ration issues a yearly award to brave or heroic dogs, entitled the “Ken-L Ration Dog Hero of the Year Award”. In 1981 King was named as the grand recipient of this prestigious award. He was also the guest of honour at a dinner sponsored by the Quaker Oats company in Tampa, Florida. There, a gold medal, a gold-plated leash and collar, and a year’s supply of dog food went to King. For the three Carlsons, there was a $1,000 US savings bond.

Since the Ken-L Ration awards began in 1954, the honoured dogs have been credited with saving the lives of 297 people and 304 animals.

Remember to love your pets on Christmas Day and everyday.

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