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Brave Canine Honored for Quake Rescue : Heroism: The SPCA heaps praise and cash award on Samoyed Stella, who shielded her Simi Valley owner from a falling wall unit.

May 11, 1994|DAVID FERRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were the best of dogs. They were the worst of dogs.

This is a tale of two Simi Valley canines, each without warning faced with the horrors of January's magnitude 6.8 earthquake. There was Stella, the loyal heroine, man's best friend, who threw herself atop her mistress's body and absorbed the near-fatal impact of a falling oak wall unit.

And there was Wilbur, who tried to hide under the bed.

For her troubles, Stella, a puffy white Samoyed, nearly lost her left paw, got to endure four hours of surgery and now owns a permanent limp. But before TV cameras and a fitting crowd of news hounds Tuesday, the gritty pooch was honored with the 12th annual "hero dog" award presented by the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Stella got a plaque and a $100 check, enough to offset some of her $2,000 in veterinary bills.

Wilbur got to stay home.

"She jumped on my stomach area and took the blow," Stella's proud owner, Myrna Huffman, told reporters in recalling the chaos of the pre-dawn Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake that toppled the massive wall unit and all its contents, including a television.

Although Huffman did not see it begin to fall, apparently Stella did and took action, even as Wilbur, Huffman's English sheep dog, scrambled for cover.

That is the only explanation Huffman can offer.

"All of a sudden, Stella was there," the owner said. "If she hadn't done it, I'd either be maimed or . . . maybe dead.

"Wilbur, he was taking care of himself," Huffman said.

Huffman is not bitter. Wilbur is just that way--nervous, outgoing, a little goofy.

During the week Stella was gone for surgery, Wilbur pined for her. "They are very much in love," Huffman said.

When Stella is fit enough to devour the prime rib reward dinner that Huffman has promised her, Wilbur will get some too. And Wilbur, although he owns a doghouse, is not in it, at least not any more.

"He sleeps in the house."

The moral? Perhaps there isn't one.

But Tuesday was a dog's day--Stella's day.

How about it, girl? Was it . . . rrruuuff?

Stella did not answer. But her limp and her tongue hanging out said it all.

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