Man's Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs

Man's Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs

by Ace Collins


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From Lassie to Old Yeller to Rin Tin Tin to Marley, dogs have stolen our attention and our hearts. In real life, our own pets are more than just canine companions; they are members of our family. And for some, they are heroes and brave servants. In Man’s Best Hero, prolific author (and lifelong dog lover) Ace Collins provides a collection of short, dramatic stories about dogs that have gone the extra mile. Though not trained to perform heroic acts, circumstances and the remarkable bond between the dog and its owner led these animals to perform amazing feats that defy logic. Whether it is saving a drowning man, jumping in front of a truck to push a toddler to the curb, or tearing the burning clothes off a child’s back, the actions presented in these stories display courage, loyalty, intelligence, and other admirable qualities of life and faith. These compelling portraits, told first in the words of the dog and then through exciting narrative that recounts the dog’s actions, will touch reader’s hearts and will leave them with a greater appreciation for their furry friends.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426776618
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Pages: 210
Sales rank: 336,982
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. He has authored more than sixty books that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children’s works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and does college basketball play-by-play. Ace lives in Arkansas. Learn more about him by visiting

Read an Excerpt

Man's Best Hero

True Stories of Great American Dogs

By Ace Collins

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2014 Ace Collins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-8738-6




All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual. —Albert Einstein

Out of all of the world's creatures, the dog is the one that truly needs to love and serve to be happy and fulfilled. This book focuses on dogs that have earned the title hero. Their stories are as varied as their backgrounds. From a four-pound terrier that initiated a mighty movement during World War II, to a massive canine that fought a frigid winter storm to save the man he loved, to a dog that brought hope to those whose spirits were crushed by the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, the animals in these pages have accomplished things far beyond what people believed they could. So in a sense these tales are both inspirational and comforting, but that is not the purpose for placing them in this book. The real reason for telling these amazing stories is to fully present the potential of all dogs, including those in your home right now. All of these canines, be they purebred or mutt, are looking for a calling, yearning to find their potential, and wanting to live out the challenge once issued by the great missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer: "I don't know what your destiny will be, but I do know that the only ones among you who will truly be happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." Thanks to a bit of help from humans, the dogs in this book found a life of service. And that is the challenge for each of us as pet owners. We should not just furnish them a home but also provide our companions with a reason to live.

With that in mind I felt a good place to begin this book was not by focusing on a dog but on a person who loves both dogs and humans. Through faith, determination, vision, and persistence, she has found a way to give the animals no one wanted and the people deemed unforgiveable a second chance at life. And that is a theme found throughout this book—second chances.

Beautiful, tall, and elegant, on first glance Renie Rule defines sophistication and grace. She could be the model for the modern businesswoman. But so much more than her career defines her. Rule possesses charismatic warmth that draws you right into her soul and a spirit that inspires those around her to dig deeper and climb higher. Robert F. Kennedy once said, "There are those who look at things and ask why, I dream of things that never were and ask why not." Rule is one of those rare people who constantly finds answers to problems others usually fail to see.

The Fort Worth native and Little Rock resident is the executive director of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. And though her activities in helping to guide one of the nation's top teaching hospitals are remarkable, it is her job of transforming lives through volunteer work that has seen her create a new breed of heroes. These all but unnoticed champions were once unwanted canines that were on their way to doggy death row but now serve as assistance animals, therapy dogs, and pets. Her revolutionary work has touched thousands, and it was remarkably born out of one sad man's final request.

Rule's upbringing as a missionary's kid gave her a slightly different point of view than most folks. After watching her parents work in some of the poorest areas on the globe and live out their passion for service each day of their lives, Rule doesn't look for what she can take but rather searches for what she can give. Even as a child in Brazil she was saving starving dogs while her parents were feeding hungry people. Perhaps it was those actions that gave her the conviction that every animal and person, no matter what they have done in the past, has the potential to be something remarkable now and in the future.

In the summer of 1994, Rule was forty-four when she read a newspaper story about Hoyt Franklin Clines. Clines was on death row awaiting execution for robbery and murder. In his final interview he told a reporter he had hoped his last meal would be a hamburger, French fries, and banana bread. The first two were easy requests for the prison to fill, but the prisoner was deeply disappointed when he was informed the unit's kitchen could not make banana bread.

Most people would have read the story and felt little compassion for a man society had deemed unfit to live, but not Renie Rule. She went to the store, bought the necessary ingredients, raced back to her kitchen, mixed and baked the bread, and then drove more than an hour to deliver it to the prison gate. At that moment she had no way of knowing this simple act would lead to starting a program that would radically change the lives of dogs and humans on both sides of prison walls. All she was doing was trying to show compassion for one single soul.

On August 2, the night before he was to be executed, Clines was allowed to make a phone call. For almost an hour the lonely man spoke with Rule. As the conversation was ending she asked him if there was anything else she could do during his last day on earth. The man quickly replied, "Will you build a chapel down here?"

There would be no appeal; Clines met his maker in the death chamber the next night, but his wishes did not die with him. Over the next few years Rule raised the funds and cut the red tape to build a simple chapel in the state's Varner Unit prison. When the small, cinderblock building was completed, she placed a sign over the door that says, "Bless all who enter." To the prisoners Rule's act of kindness seemed almost unbelievable, but to the missionary's daughter it was nothing more than living out the biblical passage that had defined her parents' life and work—Matthew 25:35-40.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

Rule could have walked away after constructing the chapel, but she didn't. Instead she began to look deeply into the prison system. As she went behind the walls and observed what life was like in this sterile, loveless, and often brutal environment, she saw things others on the inside and outside missed—potential and hope. And she had seen those same qualities in another very sad place she had visited—the local animal shelter. Rule wondered what would happen if she could find a way to take people no one believed in and connect them to dogs no one wanted. After putting the concept into a detailed plan, she set a goal of making it happen.

Rule took the idea to Governor Mike Beebe, and the dog owner immediately approved it. She then went to Arkansas Department of Corrections Director Ray Hobbs with her plan, and he embraced it. Then it was time to really get the ball rolling. After a team studied the Missouri Department of Correction's Puppies for Parole program and Rule raised the money through private donations to fund the program, Paws in Prison was born. It had taken years of work and planning, but Rule had found a way to give unwanted dogs a second chance at life and provide unwanted people an opportunity to find purpose.

As per Rule's original vision, Paws in Prison partners with shelters and rescue groups to bring unwanted dogs into prison to live with the inmates. The inmates and dogs work with professional dog trainers once a week and then practice the skills they have learned between sessions. The training goes well beyond house breaking, socialization, and basic obedience work. Dogs are also taught to read commands and respond to flash cards, help with taking off jackets and untying shoes, turn light switches on and off, and retrieve a wide variety of household items. Their training is so extensive some of the dogs graduate knowing more than a hundred different commands.

The men and women who train these dogs also have to meet rigid standards. They must live up to a certain code of conduct and work well with others. They must prove their kindness and respect for the prison staff before they are given an animal. Some of those who have stepped into the role of dog trainers have long rap sheets that include crimes such as murder and kidnapping. Many were once considered men and women who could not be reformed or rehabilitated. That all changed when the dogs came to visit. The convicts in this program live to love, and the dogs they train take that love to the world in a wide variety of remarkable ways.

One canine graduate of the program is now assisting a boy who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Another attends college with her wheelchair-bound adopted mom. Several dogs are used in reading programs in elementary schools and others have become the hands of men and women badly injured in war. They are pets and therapy dogs. They serve in homes and hospitals. They are teachers and mentors. And this transformation from unwanted and discarded dog to valued family member of society began under the tutelage of people most had deemed worthless.

The program Rule was inspired to create now operates at the Maximum Security Unit at Tucker, the Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern, the North Central Unit at Calico Rock, Randall Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff, and the Hawkins Center for Women in Wrightsville and the Tucker Unit. This program has saved hundreds of dogs from euthanasia while touching thousands of human lives. Yet what these unwanted canines have done outside the walls pales in comparison to what they have accomplished inside the prison units. Their impact behind the bars goes beyond heroism and into the area reserved for miracles.

She was an attractive, dark-haired woman with little hope and less direction and had already served a fifteen-year stretch when she saw the first dog brought into her prison unit. The diminutive, slightly built young woman, who had literally lived half her life behind walls, was suddenly flooded with long-forgotten memories of one of the few happy moments from her troubled youth. In a life filled with abuse and neglect, there had been a single steady friend she could trust—a stray dog that had somehow found and befriended her. As she studied the wagging tail and happy face of the new prison arrival, she wondered if the spirit of the dog that had once loved her unconditionally could be found in this visitor too.

The female prisoner met with Rule and the professional trainer and asked to be placed in the Paws in Prison program. When accepted, she quickly proved to be more than just a solid trainer; she was gifted. While behind bars she prepared animals as pets and assistance dogs and grew so good at her craft she was certified as a professional canine trainer. When this once-directionless woman left prison, she immediately found work with one of the nation's top pet supply companies as a master trainer. The dogs who lived in prison with her did not just give her a reason to live, they paved a new life filled with purpose and joy.

Another miracle happened when a big, broad-shouldered solemn man with a deep sadness in his eyes saw the dogs first walked into his unit. This middle-aged ex-Marine had once served his country with honor and had been recognized as one of his nation's finest soldiers. Yet after he returned from several tours in the Middle East, he had problems dealing with everyday life. An anger and rage that he could not control began to boil in his gut. He fought demons he could not see or understand, and one night he didn't walk away from a confrontation and killed a man.

Locked away in prison with little hope of ever tasting freedom again, the former Marine was eaten up with guilt. Deeply troubled by the shame he had brought to his family and the branch of the service he had been so proud to call his own, he could barely look at himself in the mirror. Worst of all, there was nothing he could begin to do to once again serve others in a positive way.

Paws in Prison gave the brooding man something to focus on. When he asked if he could become a part of the program, he was told he could earn his way there through his attitude and behavior. He did. And now the man who will never again taste freedom trains dogs for roles as assistants to other Marines who came back from war severely handicapped. His trained canines are opening doors and providing new opportunities for men and women who had thought their lives were over.

Another of the program's remarkable trainers was in his fifties when he saw his first Paws in Prison dog. Short, graying, slightly stooped, the man had spent almost his entire adult life behind bars. Because of three different violent crimes, he knew he would not get out from behind the walls until he died. With this depressing reality holding him in a vice-like grip, he had given up. Over the past decade he had even lost his ability to walk and now had to use a wheelchair. He was totally dependent upon the staff and other prisoners for even his most basic needs.

When those around him began to train dogs, he asked the warden if he could become a part of the program. The answer was an immediate no. A man in a wheelchair could not do what was necessary to train a dog to be a service animal or even a pet.

A month later this now-determined man stood for the first time in a decade and took his first steps in a walker. When he found out that was not enough, he worked harder. In just eight weeks he was walking. A month later he was able to run and he earned his way into the program.

This lifer has trained half a dozen dogs that have become incredible family pets. He has worked with small animals and big ones, those that were high energy and those that moved slowly, shy dogs and outgoing canines, and those that were beautiful and others that weren't. And all of them had one thing in common with him. They too had been discarded and given up on by society.

In these three cases and scores of others, Renie Rule's vision has given both dogs and convicts a reason to live. Paws in Prison has also become one of the most remarkable rehabilitation programs in the nation. Those who once defied authority suddenly found peace, security, and value through the love of shelter dogs. By teaming unwanted people with unwanted canines, Rule gave both a reason to live and love.

Several years ago, my wife and I were moved to adopt a beautiful male collie. As I looked at this rescue dog I found it amazing that most felt he should be put down. What was his crime? He was born completely blind.

Sammy has become one of the most remarkable animals I have ever met. He is able to navigate our home as well as any sighted dog. He can chase squirrels and still miss every tree in our yard. He is gentle, compassionate, and loving. And he is always smiling. I have never seen an animal or human enjoy life as much as does Sammy. This blind dog that most felt should be put down is my hero because he teaches me and so many others that there is no reason to limit ourselves because of others' perceptions. In his time with us he has inspired countless folks not just to see the potential of special-needs dogs but also to be better people.

Renie Rule did more than start a program; she created heroes out of dogs no one wanted. We have that potential too. We can help dogs become more than just companions; like the dogs that go behind bars and like Sammy at our house, they can be our teachers, spiritual guides, and even our heroes.

Several years ago I was asked to identify the best role model I had ever met. I smiled and quickly answered, "Lassie." Why? Because Lassie lives a life filled with love, courage, forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance. And every dog has that same potential. If you don't believe me, then go meet the unwanted canines that have been trained by those who are a part of Paws in Prison! Dogs are more than pets; they are modest and unassuming heroes in the making that are just waiting for the opportunity to awe in ways we cannot begin to imagine.




Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. —Louis Pasteur

It had been just over a year since John F. Kennedy had been gunned down in Dallas, Texas, and the country was still immersed in a cloud of confusion. The great social upheaval that was sweeping America was being covered by television. Millions were bombarded daily by events that seemed to shake traditional thinking to the core. A young, suddenly politically active generation was protesting against the war in Vietnam. African Americans, inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., were marching in the streets demanding equal rights. The Beatles and other British acts controlled the music industry pushing Elvis, Sinatra, and other U.S. artists to the back burner. TV and movies were beginning to take on an edge that left many people uncomfortable. America's sense of greatness and opportunity that had defined the 1950s had given way to a period of 1960s pessimism. This dark cloud of insecurity and apprehension had invaded every corner of the country including Tacoma, Washington. It seemed what America needed was a born-and-bred hero but what the country had was a crop of anti-heroes. In many ways this was a sad and depressing time.


Excerpted from Man's Best Hero by Ace Collins. Copyright © 2014 Ace Collins. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. Opportunity The Importance of Second Chances,
2. Tenacity He Never Surrendered,
3. Determination Exceeding Every Expectation,
4. Potential Looking for a Reason to Live,
5. Duty The Dog Terrorists Could Not Defeat,
6. Fortitude The Will to Finish the Climb,
7. Loyalty It's the Size of the Heart That Matters Most,
8. Love What the World Needs Now and Always,
9. Courage The Power of Directed Passion,
10. Gratitude The Christmas Stable Miracle,
11. Purpose Driven to Go Beyond the Call,
12. Character Not Just Playing a Hero,
13. Faithfulness Finding a Calling,

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