Given the option between making the mortgage payment on her Simi Valley home or paying the veterinarian bills to save her dog Stella, Myrna Huffman said there was no contest.
"I used my mortgage to pay the bill," Huffman said. "There's no way I'd put (Stella) to sleep. She saved my life. As far as I'm concerned, she can eat prime rib for the rest of her life."
Stella, a fluffy, white-haired Samoyed dog, was seriously injured and nearly lost a paw during the Jan. 17 quake when she risked her life and limb to save her sleeping master.
Lying next to Huffman's bed, Stella threw herself on top of her owner just as the earthquake knocked a huge oak cabinet onto the bed. Meanwhile, Wilbur, an English sheep dog, bolted for the door.
Huffman came out unscathed, but the battered 6-year-old Samoyed was in a veterinary hospital for more than a week. Stella has undergone several surgeries to repair her shattered left front leg.
"I know if it wasn't for her I would have been maimed or killed," said Huffman, 51. "I'll tell you if something like that had happened to me I would have been howling, but she was pretty calm."
For her heroics that morning, Stella will be given the highest honor awarded by the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Southern California Humane Society. Next Tuesday, she will be named this year's "Hero Dog" as part of the 12th annual Bruce Farrell Award.
"This is one amazing story from what I am sure are numerous amazing stories of pets who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect their human companions," said Rose Channer, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "When we recognize Stella, I think we're giving another example of what a major part animals play in our daily lives."
Huffman has received about $400 from the two animal welfare groups to help defray the more than $1,600 in veterinarian bills she has paid since the earthquake.
The earthquake caused extensive damage to her house, but with the help of federal emergency loans and earthquake insurance, Huffman said she will be able to keep the home and make repairs. Huffman is the manager of a Mail Depot near Simi Valley's City Hall.
Stella's recovery will likely take several more months and she probably will always have a limp.
"Her left paw was dislocated, the ligaments were severed and the bones were out of alignment," said Debbie Novy, the veterinarian who treated Stella.
Novy recently removed the pins used to set Stella's leg and paw.
"She's a happy dog who wants to be with her owner," Novy said. "I think she'll do the best she can on her three good legs."
Stella appears to be content hopping around on three legs, said Huffman. She plays with Wilbur and walks carefully about the house.
Huffman said she is sure that Stella was motivated by an instinct to protect her master rather than out of fear. She points out that Wilbur, a nervous sheep dog that barks at the slightest disturbance, was also sleeping near the bed. But Wilbur took off when the shaking started.
"I really have always felt very safe with Stella," Huffman said. "She's calm and loving, but looks out for me. I know if she barks that I should pay attention."
Huffman's biggest worry is taming Stella's unruly fur for the awards ceremony in Los Angeles next week.
"She's got that cute face like a baby seal," Huffman said, petting her dog. "I want to make sure they notice."