The day ‘Old Pup’ saved my big sister’s life

Mike Hadacek, 6, with the Hadacek family's second English shepherd dog "Pup" who was named after "Old Pup." Photo: Lori Hadacek Chaplin
Cathy Hadacek at about age 15. Photo: Lori Hadacek Chaplin

When I was a kid, growing up on a farm in northern Iowa, we had a plump, white and shades of brown English shepherd dog named “Pup” — later called “Old Pup” when she started getting on in years.

She was a gentle and helpful beloved family pet who herded the cattle, barked to warn us when strangers and visitors came on our property, gave us many litters of frolicking puppies, and was an eager and devoted companion to my siblings and me. I’ll never forget the day “hero” made it on the list of Old Pup’s virtues.

At one time or another, most of the five Hadacek kids helped our dad with the morning and evening milking of 10 to 12 cows. The summer of 1979, 15-year-old Cathy typically assisted with the 6:30 a.m. milking.

As usual, our dad had hurried off to his job in town — he worked as a road engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation — while Cathy remained in the milk house cleaning the equipment. Knowing that one of the valves on the milker was plugged, my sister headed to the air compressor that was kept in a shed up the hill from the barn to blow the blockage out.

Cathy, always free-spirited, flung off her shoes and trapesed barefooted to the shed, walking across grass wet from morning dew.

Mom was making breakfast

Mom was in the house — located about 30 feet from the shed where Cathy had started up the air compressor — washing my dad’s breakfast dishes and making breakfast for the rest of the kids, who were still sleeping. Humming and going about her morning tasks, the sound of a squealing pig could be heard, but she thought nothing of this commonplace farmyard noise.

Prayers to Mary

When Cathy walked barefooted into the shed, she flipped on the switch to the air compressor —unaware that there was an electrical short in the unit — and instantly the force of electricity coursed through her young frame throwing her onto the concrete floor. Thinking that she would surely die, she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to save her.

No one knows exactly how long my sister lay on the concrete with electricity vibrating through her body, draining the life from her. I can imagine time slowed down for her. Cathy recalls the excruciating pain she felt and seeing Old Pup come bounding into the building.


With a yelp, Old Pup pounced on the air compressor’s cord with enough force to pull the plug out of the socket, freeing Cathy from the grip of the electrical current. Then Old Pup ran over to Cathy, whimpering and licking her to see if she was OK. Somehow, my sister found the strength to get up off the floor to find mom.

Nearly 11 years old at the time, I remember being awakened by loud wailing. I raced out of bed into the living room to see what on earth was the matter. Seared on my memory is the vision of Cathy collapsed on our floor. Her body wracked with sobs as she tried to tell us what had happened to her, and the voice of our mom saying, “I thought it was a pig squealing!” as she realized that, but for Old Pup, it could have been her eldest daughter’s last cry.

Lasting impact

What I witnessed made me forever extra careful when dealing with electricity — no wet hands or feet. I could — and still can — imagine the pain Cathy felt because I had, more than once, experienced the bite of the electric fence as it grazed my back when I failed to duck low enough to avoid a shock. I was aware what my big sister experienced was much more painful.

Ever since Cathy’s brush with death, I have often contemplated and marveled at the mysterious ways in which God works — that he even uses four-footed friends as instruments to aid us. I am sure that God had and has a special role for my sister. I like to think one reason is for me. Since our parent’s death — mom in 2011 and dad in 2014 — she has remained my strongest and most faithful link to my childhood family.

As for Old Pup, she died years later and was so missed that we named our second English shepherd — you guessed it — “Pup.” Curious, I looked up information about the English shepherd breed on They are known as, “[E]nergetic, intelligent, very active, agile, courageous and gritty. Fearless for its purpose.”

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