An anatomy of a famous dog’s life-saving heroism


Let’s pause for a while to examine the facts and the worldwide media reportage about Kabang, the Philippine dog believed to have heroically saved the lives of two little girls about to be run over by a speeding motorcycle. For this feat, the wounded mongrel was accorded life-saving surgery and eight-month hospitalization in the United States, in the process chalking up tens of thousands of adulatory stories in the world media, a whooping 4,700,000 entries in Google as of this writing, and citations for dog heroism in Wikipedia and Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.”

The bare-bones facts about what befell Kabang on December 2, 2011 are these:
Cousins Dina Bunggal, 11, and Princess Diansing, 3, were walking across Nuñez Extension in Zamboanga City that day. A motorcycle was speeding in their direction when Kabang jumped onto its path. Kabang’s head landed on the motorcycle’s front wheel and its snout got stuck; the bones holding its upper snout were crushed. As this happened, the two girls stumbled and sustained minor bruises. The motorcyclist then took the girls to a hospital.

Two months and four days later, a leading Metro Manila broadsheet reported the story under the headline “Pet dog saves 2 girls, but loses her face.” With human interest understandably in mind, the newspaper gave the story this lead: “The story of Kabang is one more heartwarming take on the familiar theme of the pet dog as lifesaver.”

The story reported in paraphrase that the two girls said they didn’t know that “a speeding motorcycle was bearing down on them,” with that idiom clearly used here in the sense of the vehicle “moving toward them in a threatening way.” This was followed by this dramatic flourish: “At the crucial moment, Kabang, the Bunggal family’s dog, emerged from nowhere and jumped into the motorcycle’s path” (italicizations mine).

The phrase “at the crucial moment” here is an innocuous rhetorical enhancement, but that the dog “emerged from nowhere” is too disingenuous to be factual. Kabang was the family dog, so it stands to reason that it was most likely providing the two girls company during that walk like a good, loving pet should. After all, according to Dina’s father, the girls were very fond of Kabang, even letting it sleep with them.

The newspaper’s correspondent got hold of an eyewitness, tricycle driver Jovito Urpiano, about two months after the incident. She quoted him: “I thought somebody threw the dog on the motorcycle, but I could not see anyone who might have done that.” He then made a conjecture that the correspondent paraphrased this way: “…it later came to him that Kabang had intentionally blocked the motorcycle’s path to save the girls.”

Essentially then, Kabang’s heroic act of blocking the motorcycle to save the life of the girls is based solely on this revelation, this apocryphal afterthought without proof. Indeed, it’s surprising why the correspondent didn’t interview the motorcycle driver to verify this extraordinary claim, for the latter’s corroboration could have lent credence to it.

That Kabang’s getting in the path of the motorcycle indeed might have saved the two girls from serious harm is not in question here. It’s the heroism angle that needs dispassionate scrutiny, for the known facts of the story don’t preclude the possibility that what the dog did was simply happenstance. This could be just an instance of a dog joyfully prancing around with its two young masters and getting in harm’s way, rather than of one foreseeing and heroically deciding to block a motorcycle that was about to run them over.

Is it possible then that the worldwide media frenzy over Kabang is an acute outpouring of heraldic anthropomorphism— in this case, the uncritical ascribing of noble motives to canine behavior—and that people most everywhere are passionately falling for it for lack of real-life human heroes?

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at Follow me at @J8Carillo.


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