An intrepid trauma survivor, this hero dog award finalist is on the front line between life and death.

In 2013, a catastrophic E5 tornado leveled Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City. The wreckage was massive, and search and rescue (SAR) teams scoured debris around the clock for any signs of human and animal life. 

Molly Gibb, a professional SAR volunteer, worked with local animal control and the American Humane Rescue team to meet the animal response needs. Five days into the effort, volunteers discovered a tiny American pit bull terrier puppy buried under rubble, just barely alive. Dubbed Little Man, Gibb adopted him after no one claimed him. She tells Daily Paws that right from the start, she knew this brave survivor had what she calls "good bones" and the tenacity to become a SAR dog. 

"Search and rescue is about solving mysteries," Gibb says. "Qualities my colleagues and I look for in people-oriented dogs include prey drive, endurance [or 'hunt drive'], athleticism, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and enthusiasm. Little Man showed a lot of these as a puppy." She nurtured and cultivated these natural abilities, and now he's certified with the National Association of Search and Rescue, specializing in off-leash area live find (scent specific and non-discriminatory scent), article search (evidence), and human remains on land.  

Little Man portrait, hero dog
Credit: Savannah Young / American Humane Communications

Gibb says this skill diversity keeps Little Man "interested and in the game" of search, and they've partnered with law enforcement throughout the U.S. to bring peace and resolution after a disaster or personal tragedy. "It has been a real joy to develop together as a mission-ready operational team," Gibb says. 

In 2020, Little Man made a vital discovery: he found a missing traumatized assault victim alive. Once lost, alone, and frightened, Gibb believes the work Little Man does now proves his joyous spirit is a dedication to public service. These are just a few reasons why Little Man is a finalist for the American Humane 2021 Hero Dog Awards, airing Wednesday, October 20 on Hallmark Drama.  

Molly Gibb and Little Man, dog hero
Credit: Courtesy of Molly Gibb / David S. Gibb

For the Love of Pit Bulls

Gibb says her family has had American pit bull terriers for almost 120 years. "Little Man exudes the typical qualities of this faithful old breed, and I believe he helps shine a bright and hopeful light on the truth of these dogs." When he's not on the search, she says he's always giving back to the community that saved him, working as a neutral helper dog for shelter and adjudicated dogs and participating in youth programs. 

"He goes about his life including everyone into his heart with joy," Gibb says. "We humans can take a lesson or two from him about living life well. He teaches and reminds me every day to do so." Atta' boy, Little Man!