NEW YORK – When Debbie Parkhurst choked on a piece of apple at her Maryland home, her dog jumped in, landing hard on her chest and forcing the morsel to pop out of her throat. When the Keesling family of Indiana was about to be overcome by carbon monoxide, their cat clawed at wife Cathy’s hair until she woke up and called for help.
For their nick-of-time acts, Toby, a 2 1/2-year-old golden retriever, and Winnie, a gray-eyed American shorthair, were named Dog and Cat of the Year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In addition, five humans were honored Thursday for their actions toward animals in the past year, including a Bronx firefighter who saved a dog and cat from a burning building.
Both pets were themselves rescued in infancy — Toby as a 4-week-old puppy tossed into a garbage bin to die, and Winnie as a week-old orphan hiding under a barn, so helpless that Keesling’s husband, Eric, had to feed her milk with an eyedropper.
As the Keeslings recalled it, a gas-driven pump being used to remove flood waters from their basement in New Castle, Ind., last March malfunctioned, spreading carbon monoxide through the house. By the time Winnie moved into rescue mode, the couple’s 14-year-old son, Michael, was already unconscious.
“Winnie jumped on the bed and was clawing at me, with a kind of angry meow,” Cathy Keesling said. “When I woke up I felt like a T-bar had hit me across the head.”
State police and sheriff’s officers responding to her 911 call said the family was only minutes from death, judging by the amount of poisonous gas in the house.