Man Who Lost His Leg Saving Dog Is Not Sorry
Animal Stories from

From LA Times
January 2010

[Ed. Note: Also read Remembering Cole McFarland Jr. 1950-2010.]

Late in the afternoon of Sunday, June 10, 1985, Cole McFarland Jr. went walking. He took with him two dogs Noble, his 3-year-old golden retriever, and Starbell, Noble's "girlfriend." The path they chose borders the train tracks in Carlsbad, a coastal city 30 miles north of San Diego.

To anyone living nearby, the path is an old friend. During daylight hours children ride bicycles, lovers walk arm in arm and dogs scamper about freely, silhouetted by the sunlight dancing off the ocean.

Starbell headed into a clearing. Noble, taking his "evening constitutional," climbed onto the tracks. McFarland, only a few feet away, heard a sudden roar, felt the ground shake and looked up at a terrified Noble. Thundering into view was an Amtrak passenger train, roaring along at 90 miles an hour, southbound from Los Angeles.

" Vindar ," he screamed. It is a Sanskrit command, meaning "Come into my presence." Normally, Noble reacts instantaneously but this time he didn't move. Without hesitating, McFarland leaped--six, maybe seven feet. He grabbed Noble by the chest, flinging him backward, to the east.

From that point on, everything, he said, seemed to happen in slow motion.

"There was that instant of realization when I thought, 'I've saved him; isn't this great!' While the train seems to be moving slowly, in ever-increasing increments. And it's happening, of course, lickety-split. The instant I realized I'd saved him bam! the train hits me broadside.

"My entire torso had cleared, but it hit my leg, knocking me to the side. The train's roaring by, and I'm on the ground, trying hard to shake off the blow. I realize I'm hit I don't want to lose consciousness. Noble's licking my face. I look at the ground and my left leg is severed below the knee, just dangling by a thread. (The leg was amputated several hours later.) But Noble's licking me, taking care of me, being my friend." In the eight months since, McFarland, 35, has gotten letters from all over the world from Belgium and Australia, Italy and Norway. He has been publicized by two major wire services and the Star, a supermarket tabloid. All the letters are the same. We would do it too , they say. We love our animals just as much .

Others, who have talked to McFarland, are more skeptical. Why? they ask. Why such a risk especially for a dog? These, McFarland answers with a promise. He would do it again, he says. Without hesitation.

Most who knew Cole also know the story of him saving his golden retriever, Noble. Noble had frozen on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. Cole saved Noble, but lost his own leg in the process. Cole would call it a small price to pay for saving his best friend, an animal who went on to live a long and healthy life by his side.

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