November 13, 2008

BY DAN ROZEK

John Petrik didn't have any relatives living nearby, and he didn't know many of his neighbors, but the 68-year-old Cicero resident was devoted to his mixed-breed dog, Regis.

When a fire broke out early Wednesday in Petrik's home, he demonstrated that devotion by refusing to leave the burning home until he was sure his dog was safe, authorities said.

But that decision ended tragically, with Petrik dying shortly after he was removed from the home by rescuers, while his 13-year-old dog survived the blaze.

"He was a shy man -- very quiet, very private. But he was very attached to that dog. He loved that dog," said Dr. Cesar Agustin, the Oak Park veterinarian who provided medical care to Regis.

The 55-pound dog was being treated Wednesday for his injuries -- which include smoke inhalation and a burned tail -- at Agustin's animal clinic, A American Veterinary Hospital.

Petrik was home when the fire erupted about 1:20 a.m., but he wouldn't leave when Cicero firefighters arrived and at one point tried to hold a door closed to keep firefighters from rescuing him, said town spokesman Dan Proft.

"He refused to leave the house. Our belief is he wanted to get the dog and take the dog out before he would leave," Proft said.

He was removed from the home, then placed in a Cicero police car, where he suffered some type of medical problem -- possibly a heart attack, Proft said.

Petrik was pronounced dead at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn. An autopsy showed he died of smoke and soot inhalation, as well as cardiovascular disease, officials said.

Several community residents already have expressed an interest in adopting Regis, though he first must recover from his injuries, Proft said.

A neighbor said he knew Petrik enjoyed his dog, but he didn't glimpse the depth of that affection.

"It seems like he gave up his life for his dog," said neighbor Clarence Stewart. "I can't believe that."