The morning Steve Subick’s yellow lab jumped on his bed was the morning he knew something was wrong.
A garage fire started by the water heater in the Rancho El Dorado home in February 2007, sent thick plumes of smoke inside. It also drove obedient “Tugg” to disobey his owner’s rule of staying off the bed.
“I was sleeping and woke up at 4:30 in the morning when Tugg jumped up on the bed, kind of like growling, and barking, and licking my face, and kind of like nudging me,” Subick says.
Disoriented, Subick was so blinded by the smoke he could not see the alarm clock on the nightstand next to him.
“I was choking almost to the point where I was throwing up; I couldn’t breathe,” says Subick. “I grabbed my phone, it was just right there, and headed out the door.”
As it turned out, the path to safety for Tugg and his owner (who were the only occupants that night) was not so clear and came with a few bumps in the road.
“I couldn’t see the doorway so I ran into the doorframe and busted my head open,” Subick says.
Fortunately, the pair made it out of the house safely with only minor injuries.
“When I got out and finally called the fire department, they gave Tugg some oxygen and they gave me some oxygen,” Subick says.
Two years before the fire, Subick adopted Tugg as a Valentine’s gift for his young daughter Tatum, and although Tugg was an agreeable, well-mannered pup, he had been put through no formal obedience training. So naturally, his heroic actions the morning of the fire came as a surprise to his owner.
“It kind of reminded me of ‘Old Yeller’ – like something that would happen in the movies,” says Subick. “I wasn’t expecting it because we never really trained him to retrieve or to assist, or gave him any kind of training to do stuff like that so it was definitely surprising that he did, and I’m grateful that he did.”
A self-described “deep sleeper,” Subick says he had doubts whether or not he would have awakened the night of the fire without the help from Tugg.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was so thankful because if he wasn’t there I probably wouldn’t be here,” he says.
Eight years later, Tugg and Subick have since moved to a new home in Senita along Tatum, his grandfather Thomas Brown, and his Chihuahua-pug mix, Buster.
“Nowadays, he’s just a typical lab,” Subick says. At 10 years old, Tugg still enjoys an active lifestyle with his family. True to his breed, he often enjoys a cool dip in the backyard pool, among other activities.
“We take him on long hikes and he loves the water so we take him out on the lake, too,” Subick says.
Tugg’s most favorite thing to do, however, is to spend time with Tatum. Being that Tugg is only one year and one day older than Tatum, Subick says growing up together has sealed their close bond.
“They are best friends. It’s ridiculous,” Subick says, laughing. “He will follow her around wherever she goes.”
Looking back, Subick said it was a scary experience and he is thankful to have a dog like Tugg.
“He’s definitely a part of our family and we love him,” Subick said. “He definitely saved my life that day.”
Age: 10 years
Breed: Labrador retriever
Size: 80 pounds
Best Trick: Playing dead
Favorite Toy: Stuffed purple pig
Favorite Snack: Baby carrots
Fun Fact: Named after late Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw.