When Animals Save Lives: The Story of Rex

The Hawman Family

The Hawman Family

On Christmas Eve 2015, Santana Hawman and her family left their Aberdeen-area acreage to meet her husband Mitch for a family gathering in Saskatoon. Although that night would change their lives forever, it would reveal a canine hero.

Rex, a malamute-shepherd cross, was adopted from the Saskatoon SPCA in September 2007. The Hawman family was attracted to Rex because of his size and breed; however Rex did not bond with Mitch immediately. According to Santana, “Rex didn’t seem to like being around men for the first year he was with our family.” Eventually that would change and the bond between Mitch and Rex would see them become the best of friends. Over the next eight years, Rex would develop a strong relationship with all members of the Hawman family, serving as a guardian for the couple’s young children.

On December 24th, Mitch’s mother, Noreen Lucas was staying with the family for the holidays. That evening, as the family left for dinner in Saskatoon, Noreen decided to stay home after coming down with an illness. Having trouble sleeping, Noreen took a sleep aid that would help her get some rest. As Noreen slept on the couch, a fire broke out in the Hawman house. Rex jumped into action attempting to wake Noreen from her slumber. Noreen initially ignored Rex’s panicked barking and turned over to fall back asleep. It was at this moment that Rex grabbed Noreen’s pajama pants in his teeth and pulled her off the couch and towards the door. The jarring bump to the floor was enough to wake Noreen, who realized the danger she was in. Noreen, along with Rex’s help, tried to save as many family pets as possible. Unfortunately, a cat, two rabbits, and a hamster succumbed to the fire.

Rex, the Hawman family dog

Rex, the Hawman family dog

While Noreen was able to make it out of the house safely, she was treated in hospital for smoke inhalation. It was not until the next morning that Mitch and Santana learned of Rex’s heroic actions. Noreen showed the family her pajama pants that had a small hole where the dog’s teeth had punctured the fabric, and a small bruise on her leg. After the terrifying ordeal, Noreen would be able to celebrate Christmas with her family thanks to the brave actions of Rex, the family dog.

In the days following the fire, Rex was still concerned for the safety of his family. Although he had seen each of the seven members of the family at one point or another, it was four days after the fire that Rex was able to see the entire family all together in one room. Rex’s familiar malamute howls of worry were traded for happy tail wags and friendly licks.

In May 2016, Rex was recognized for his actions as the latest inductee into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, an annual event “that honours life-saving pet heroes.” The Hawman family, including their four-legged hero, travelled to Toronto for Rex to take his place in the Hall among Canada’s animal heroes.

The Hawman home was a total loss; however, this disaster could have been a lot worse if Rex had not been there to save Grandma Noreen. As the family begins the process of rebuilding their lives and their home, Santana has one important reminder for those looking to add a furry member to their family: “Shelter animals aren’t just animals at a shelter. They are animals in need of a home. They need a family. They need to be loved.”

Pet Allergies and the Myth of the Hypoallergenic Pet

Submitted by Meaghan West, RVT

The prevalence of pet related allergies has risen dramatically in recent years, with most reported sensitivities related to cats and dogs. These allergic reactions can range from mild discomfort to anaphylaxis; hair, dander, saliva, and urine can all be sources of allergens. The misconception of “hypoallergenic” and “non-shedding” pets may seem to provide hope to those who love the company of cats and dogs, but this is nothing more than a lucrative marketing ploy.

Allergens are proteins that cause an immune system response. An allergic response may result from the ingestion or inhalation of these proteins, as well as direct skin contact. The immune system is not static and the severity of reactions may decrease over time from regular exposure; however, it is also possible for allergic reactions to become more severe from continued exposure.

Unfortunately, when it comes to pets, “hypoallergenic” does not mean the animal is allergen free. Rather, it means fewer than average allergens are produced by the animal. The concept of a “non-shedding” animal is a clever marketing ploy, as all animals with hair, fur, and feathers must shed. However, this does not mean that those who suffer from pet allergies are out of luck, only that finding the right pet may take some time, effort, and out of the box thinking.

Prior to getting a dog or cat consider a breed with hair rather than fur, as these breeds tend to shed less and have shorter coats. Dogs (e.g., Poodles, Bichon Frises, and Portuguese Water Dogs) and cats (e.g., Cornish Rex and Devon Rex) with hair also lack the dense undercoat that is often shed seasonally in other breeds. Mixes of these breeds also tend to have fewer allergens than average as well. It is important to note that genetics and breeding are not simple equations; keep in mind that every puppy or kitten in a litter is neither a copy of their siblings nor their parents. A pet may not trigger an allergic response, while a littermate or parent could produce a very different effect.

Younger animals produce fewer allergens than adult animals, which could result in an increase in allergic symptoms as the animal ages. Adopting an adult animal decreases the chance of causing an unexpected reaction. Surprisingly, female cats and dogs, and males who have been neutered, also produce fewer allergens; another excellent reason to spay and neuter!

Daily brushing and routine bathing can help minimize allergens in the home by removing dust, pollen, dead hair, and dander from your pet, while also promoting a healthy coat. Proper hygiene after handling pets (e.g., routine handwashing) can eliminate many allergens from being transported to the eyes and nose. Limiting a pet’s access to human sleeping areas, using HEPA filters, and regular vacuuming will also reduce allergens. Keeping cats inside also ensures that they are not bringing in extra dust and pollen, which may trigger additional allergic responses. Antihistamines and medication may also alleviate the symptoms of pet allergies.

While cats and dogs may be the most common source of allergens for potential pet owners, there are many species other than cats and dogs that can make wonderful companions. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds are all social animals that enjoy human interaction (e.g., cuddling, grooming, agility, and learning tricks), and may be an alternative for those with specific allergies to cats and dogs. Hand friendly reptiles such as bearded dragons, leopard geckos, and crested geckos can be a great alternative to pets with fur or feathers. It is important to remember that those animals marketed as 100% allergen free are marketing scams aimed to take advantage of you and the animal. Do not fall victim to these clever marketing schemes and false claims; a wonderful pet is waiting for you whether it has fur, feathers, or scales.