Stephanie Herfel knows that her husky has saved her life — not once, but three times.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the 52-year-old Marine Corps veteran got Sierra from her son in 2011. At the time, the husky was still a puppy, only 9-months-old.
Two years later, Herfel moved from California to Wisconsin. That’s when she noticed Sierra acting strangely. She told the Journal Sentinel that her dog was behaving as though there was something on her body that smelled frightening:
“She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes. She did it a second and then a third time. After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!”
Herfel had been experiencing abdominal pain, so she saw an emergency room doctor who diagnosed her with an ovarian cyst and sent her home with pain medication.
Day 28 of Thanksgiving:Hmmm where to start! I have been graced with a pet that turned into a life saver, nurse, and…
But Sierra’s fearful reactions didn’t stop. The dog continued to curl up in a ball and hide in the back of the closet.
Her dog’s reaction was so odd that Herfel was unsettled. She made an appointment with a specialist and received a life-changing diagnosis. She told the Journal Sentinel:
“To see her become so afraid was spooky in its own right. So I made an appointment with a gynecologist and in a matter of weeks and some blood work with an ultrasound, on 11-11-13 I was sitting in the gynecology oncologist room in shock that I had cancer.”
Herfel had stage 3c ovarian cancer. She immediately began treatment, undergoing a hysterectomy and months of chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer has a way of coming back. But Sierra continued to be Herfel’s early warning system. In 2015 — and again in 2016 — the husky resumed her hiding behaviors. In both cases, it was the first indication that Herfel’s cancer had returned.
Sierra is so accurate at detecting cancer that Herfel’s oncologist has assured her that it wasn’t a fluke. In fact, some dogs have been known to accurately “sniff out” cancer in humans.
According to Penn State News, there have been multiple experiments demonstrating that dogs’ sensitive noses can detect disease. One study from 2006 involving five trained test dogs found that they could accurately detect lung cancer 99 percent of the time and breast cancer 88 percent of the time … just by smelling the patients’ breath.
Sierra is so accurate that Herfel and her husband once warned a contractor who worked on their house to go to the doctor based on the dog’s reaction to him.
Thanks to her dog’s keen senses, Herfel is now hopeful that she will beat the odds. For now, she’s living one day at a time. She’s also considering writing a book about her remarkable pet. She told the Journal Sentinel:
“I just feel like my story can let people think about their animals and think, ‘Wow, my animal did this when I got diagnosed.’ Just to give the animals credit that they are pretty smart.”
Herfel has no problem giving Sierra credit for saving her life. She added:
“I owe my life to that dog. She’s really been a godsend to me. She has never been wrong.”