What began as a near-fatal tragedy for one pit bull puppy named Jake ultimately transformed his life for the better — all thanks to the man who risked his own life to save him.
Bill Lindler, a firefighter with the Hanahan Fire Department in South Carolina, had just returned home from work one day last April when he saw flames rising up from his neighbor's freestanding garage. Naturally, he leapt into action.
"I saw Mama dog and several puppies running out," Lindler told The Dodo. "I saw one puppy trying to make his way out, when a piece of the ceiling fell on top of him. He started yelping, but he wiggled himself free and backed into a corner and cowered down."
When backup arrived, Lindler entered the burning structure and found Jake hiding beneath a couch on the verge of death.
"I brought him outside, and he was pretty bad," said Lindler. "He wasn't moving. He wasn't breathing. I did mouth-to-snout on him, until we could administer oxygen."
Though badly burned, the little dog survived and was sent to an emergency vet clinic. A few weeks later, Lindler dropped by to check in on how Jake was doing. That's when he learned that the puppy's family failed to come claim him.
So, Lindler decided to save Jake again.
"I told the vet I would like to get him. I asked how much the medical bills would cost, and the vet told us that it was fitting that I should want him, since I was the one who saved him," Lindler said. "He told me we didn't have to worry about the bills."
Having suffered burns over 70 percent of his body, Jake's recovery would take several weeks. But Lindler was there to make sure it wasn't a road the puppy would have to face alone.
As Jake grew stronger, and his burns began to heal, Lindler began bringing Jake along with him for his shifts at the fire station.
He fit right in.
"Everybody was just thrilled to death," Lindler said. "He's just the cutest little thing there is. Everybody fell in love with him."
Jake, it seems, was destined for great things.
As Jake's presence among the other firefighters at the station became a regular occurance, Lindler's wife even converted an old firefighting jacket for him to complete the look.
Still, his position on the force was purely unofficial — for the time being, anyway.
In his service, Jake continued to thrive, both in his own health, and in the impact he was having on others in the community.
"We've taken him to local schools for education classes about fire prevention," says Lindler. "He's a big hit."
Jake's most important position, however, was that of station pet. The firefighters even made space for a little bed just for him, though he seems to hold another spot most dear.
"He still prefers to lay up on daddy's bed," Lindler admits.
Just having Jake around to greet them after returning from a call has done wonders for the firefighters' morale. And for that priceless role, he soon earned some overdue recognition.
Last December, Jake was awarded two new titles from the community he serves.
"Talking with my chief, and higher ups from the city, they thought it would be fitting to swear him in and make him an honorary firefighter," said Lindler. "He's also now our official mascot for the fire department."
Though not much has changed for Jake's day-to-day since earning official recognition, this may just be the beginning of what is already shaping up to be an outstanding career, says Lindler:
"I'd like to see him be a therapy dog for burned children one day, so they can see that he's a survivor and that, despite the scars, they're all still beautiful. But right now though, we're working on having him be an arson detection dog."
Regardless of what lies ahead for Jake, the difficulties of his past — like the scars that mark his body — can never be erased. But all that only seems to make him stronger.
"He's very happy and very healthy. I'm very proud," said Lindler. "Sometimes people ask about the scars, and when they do I tell them Jake's story. I tell them that the scars are just his badge from being a firefighter."
Keep up with Jake's adventures by following his Facebook page.