By Kathy Marks in Sydney
Monday, 27 October 2008

Forget fighting like cats and dogs, this was more like fire-fighting. Family pooch Leo risked his life to save a litter of newborn kittens from flames engulfing a house and was hailed as a hero by Australian fire brigade.

Leo's owners, a family of four, had escaped from their blazing home in Melbourne, with a second dog. But Leo, a jack russell cross, refused to leave the building. Believing one person unaccounted for, firemen entered the house, where they found him standing guard over the kittens despite the thick, acrid smoke.

Outside, Leo, who had lost consciousness and stopped breathing, was revived, with rescuers giving him oxygen and a heart massage. The kittens, in a cardboard box in a bedroom, also needed treatment.

Ken Brown, a fire service commander, said yesterday: "Leo wouldn't leave the kittens, and it nearly cost him his life." He said the family were relieved to be reunited with all their pets. "Everyone's fine," he said. "We rescued everyone."

There was no smoke alarm in the house, and officials said the family was lucky to be alive. An 11-year-old girl suffered smoke inhalation and was treated by paramedics. She had been at home with her mother and two brothers, aged five and 18, when the fire started in the front room. The cause has not been established, but police are treating it as suspicious.

And Leo has a new nickname: Smoky.