The night my dog saved my life

Katie Brotten
5 min readMay 1, 2021

Three years ago, on May 1, 2018…

I am driving home after a very long day. It was a horrible work day, and then I sat through a 4 hour grad school class when all I wanted to do was come home and eat ice cream and hug my dog and process my day. But, I love grad school and I love my job, and some days are just not ideal.

Vinnie, my yellow lab mix, is asleep when I arrive at almost 11pm. He walks over to me and gives me a kiss to welcome me, one of the only kisses I get each day from my standoffish dog. I love him so much.

“Hi! How are you? What did you do today?” I ask him.

I’ve always spoken to him in conversational full sentences, and I think he understands most of what I’m saying. Once at the dog park I said to him, “Hey, we gotta go home, but why don’t you go get some water first and then come back here so I can put your leash on?” And the kid trotted over to the water dish, tanked up, and then returned to where I was standing so I could put his leash on. He’s amazing.

Tonight, there is still something to do before bed.

“I gotta go for my run. You wanna come?” I ask.

I am participating in a 365-Day Running streak, inspired by one of my dear friends, and today is Day #19. Even though it’s 11pm, I don’t want to break the streak. Vinnie happily walks over to his leash, and we head out to the gym on the condo property. As I rev up the treadmill, Vinnie relaxes by the free weights.

“You pump some iron, and I’m gonna knock out 3 miles. Okay?”

Vinnie just yawns.

As I’m running, I continue to process my work day. Before I know it, I’ve run 3 miles and I grab Vinnie and we return home. I do some stretches, and then we both get into my Queen-sized bed, which is somehow still not big enough because Vinnie sleeps perpendicularly to me. I rest my head on the pillow, and then I readjust to get comfortable.

Suddenly, I feel a sort of explosive sensation in my head, in my brain. The pain shoots down to my neck and shoulders… or did it start there and go to my head? It’s hard to tell as it was all so fast. It feels like cement has filled my head, but jabby painful cement shards and angles that are stabbing my brain. I quickly lay my head down on my pillow.

What was that? Is that the bulging disc that I have in my neck? Is it acting up? I slowly sit up again to see if it improves. But the pain is still there, a stabbing pushing throbbing pain. I slowly turn my neck from right to left, but find I’m almost immobile there. I see black spots in my vision.

Ah, okay. Black spots. It’s just a migraine. I’ve never had one, but my aunt has them and talks about the black spots. No big deal. It is very painful though.

I lay my head down again, trying to get comfortable. And suddenly, Vinnie is there in my face. He whines, whimpers, paws at my shoulder and chest.

“What’s going on? Do you need to go potty? What’s up?”

Vinnie doesn’t jump up like he would if he needed to go outside. Instead he sighs and digs at me again with his paw. This is so uncharacteristic of my standoffish dog. I roll over as best I can, but Vinnie is persistent. This is so strange. He groans and whimpers some more.

I sit up again, and the stabbing pain in my head is getting pretty overwhelming. Vinnie looks at me, watching my every move to see what I do. What is going on with Vinnie? What is going on with my head? I still can barely move it. Should I call 911? I’ve never seen Vinnie act like this. He seems concerned, upset. And dogs have other senses we don’t have. Maybe he senses something?

I call 911 and the 2 paramedics arrive a few minutes later. Vinnie greets them with kisses and a smile, and an expression almost like, “Finally, you’re here!”

“I feel so ridiculous,” I explain. “It’s probably just a bulging disc in my neck that’s acting up, but I can’t really move my neck and I’m seeing spots…”

They check my vitals and tell me that they’re more than happy to take me to the hospital to see if it’s a pinched nerve or something else. I agree. I give Vinnie a kiss before I leave and then the paramedics load me into the ambulance.

We get to the hospital, and I explain my symptoms to the ER doctors. They take vitals, lab work, and then they calmly but quickly tell me they’re going to do an MRI on that area. I’m wheeled down to the machines, and back in the room before I know it. It’s only a few minutes before a doctor comes in to explain the results.

“Hi, I’m Maya Davis,” she starts. “I’m one of the ER doctors.”

She is wearing a mask, years before the pandemic, and her hair is covered, so I can only see her eyes. She continues speaking. Amidst all the commotion of the ER, she manages to speak to me in a soft, calming way.

“We are going to keep you for a few days,” she says. “The scans show that hundreds of blood clots have formed in your brain, and it’s a good thing you came in tonight or you could have gone into a coma and died. We need to keep you and watch for additional stroke symptoms. How are you doing?”

Is she kidding? What is going on? I don’t understand what this all means. She explains that they will put me on a blood thinner right away, but they need to monitor me for a few days “in case things worsen and we need to do an emergency brain surgery.”

I feel like I’m in a dream. It is around 3am at this point, I’ve been awake almost 24 hours, and my workday feels like a lifetime ago.

As they admit me to the hospital, I think about Vinnie’s behavior and how I was just going to sleep through the “migraine” had he not been so persistent and seemed so bothered. Dogs are amazing. They are goofy and silly and obsessed with treats and toys, but when it matters, they rise to the challenge and protect us.

Vinnie has been with me for 11 and 1/2 years, and I have never had an animal that is in tune with me as much as he is. What he did on May 1, 2018 was life-saving. And I am in tune with him as well, as any other person looking in from the outside might have just thought he wanted to play or go outside or was hungry. But that deeper way that animals and humans are able to communicate when they really listen is nothing short of miraculous. I am so grateful for his persistence that night, his diligence at protecting me.