Without Tater Tot causing a commotion, his owner probably wouldn’t have survived.

dog that rescued a person drowning
Credit: Sitela Alvarez / EyeEm / Getty

When 76-year-old Tom Kissel of Mars, Penn., hit his head on the side of a boat and fell unconscious into the Allegheny River back in July, it could have been the worst possible scenario. 

The boat dock Kissel fell from is in what witnesses described as an "out of the way" spot of the river, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports. Once they were alerted, it took first responders about 20 minutes to make their way down the winding, forest-lined roads to the dock. If Kissel hadn't had someone with him who had the presence of mind to go and find help, he very likely would have drowned.

But the good news is that Kissel wasn't alone: He was with Tater Tot, the Pomeranian and Russell terrier mix who Kissel adopted from his son. And even though the little dog only has three legs, after losing one to cancer, Tater Tot immediately jumped into the river with Kissel, swimming around the unconscious man's body, the newspaper reported. 

It was Tater Tot's commotion in the water that drew the attention of Mary Jo Lender and her husband Brian, who were tying their boat up on a nearby dock. Fortuitously, Lender is a nurse at Allegheny Valley Hospital with over 33 years of experience in the medical field. She sprang into action.

The Lenders, with the help of a few other bystanders, pulled Kissel from the river, where he had been unconscious for nearly 10 minutes, according to the Post-Gazette. Lender began CPR and another bystander gave Kissel mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until first responders were able to take over, all of which combined to save Kissel's life.

Three months after his harrowing incident, Kissel reunited with the Lenders and the first responders who saved him at a ceremony Oct 12, organized by the Allegheny Health Network and the American Heart Association. Kissel was able to personally thank the people who helped, and Tater Tot was on hand to pose for pictures and bask in some well-deserved praise. For their heroism, the Lenders were given the American Heart Association's "American Heart Hero Award," while Tater Tot was given a goodie basket full of treats.

"I guess he knew if he did that he would attract attention," Kissel told thePost-Gazette about Tater Tot's life-saving instinct. "I can't believe that he would figure that out, but he did."