Hat City Diggers remember the courage of Mimi. The Toy poodle who rose from dog hero of Danbury to Ken L- Ration’s Dog Hero for 1972

If you believe in fate, then, Cindy, the Emerito families 16-year boxer had to die.  In the fall of 1971 Angie Emerito was backing out of the families’ driveway at 38 Star Av in Danbury, Ct, she and her youngest son, Peter were heading to the old Danbury mall on Kennedy Av for pizza, one of the boys favorite foods, the five other Emerito children were  home or out with friends. Suddenly the worst happened Angie backed over Cindy. The dog who loved resting in the road even as cars drove by was dead.


Angie said “No more pets. You get to attached” it was too heartbreaking and the mother of six would not have it.  Despite the 38-year-old mother’s statement, in the summer of 1972, Nicholas, Angie’s 39-year-old husband purchased a dog after seeing an ad in the Danbury NewsTimes. A short time later Nicholas brought home Mimi an apricot-colored Toy poodle she had set Nicholas back $50 dollars. Pete Emerito who now lives in Florida recalls that Mimi came from  a lady in Newtown, Ct, Mimi’s owner was moving to Florida as Pete Emerito  remembers and “She couldn’t take the dog with her.” At first, she was unwilling to sell, Pete says. She suspected the Emeritos would mistreat the small poodle,  however, the lady- whose name escapes Pete-  relented when Pete’s father pretended to be a truck driver looking for a companion for his lonely wife while he was on the road.  Consequently, Mimi went home with the Emerito family. “Mimi was an adorable, a  personable dog she was like a queen happy go lucky” remembers Pete but speaking by telephone. Pete also remembers that Mimi had a peculiarity: she was unable or unwilling to “climb the stairs” in the Emerito home and she had to be carried up and down the steps. None of the Emeritos knew at the time but if not for the death of Cindy or the adoption of the dog Angie Emerito had not wanted none of the eight family members would be alive today.  46 years on the story of Mimi, the hero dog of Danbury who rose to Ken L- Ration’s hero dog of the year is just as relevant and powerful today as it was in 1972.


1972 saw the Vietnam war winding down.  Danbury car dealerships were pushing ads for unsold stock to the public. A 1971 Barracuda was just $2685  also chuck at the Shopwell in town was 48 cents lb and a prison reform group continued its vigil at Danbury’s FCI. The evening of January 30th  was uneventful for the Emerito family.  Tomorrow was a school day so the Emerito children headed to bed early after watching TV. Angie exhausted followed the kids to bed. The home on the corner of Fern St and Star Av was three floors the master bedroom was on the first floor, the children’s bedrooms were on the third floor.  Pete Emerito says that night he slept with his mother downstairs. According to Pete his father did not go to bed but fell asleep on the couch watching the Late Show. Mimi stayed in the living room.


Hours later about 5:30 in the morning Nicholas was awoken by Mimi, says Pete the dog was barking frantically. She jumped on his father’s chest and pawed at the 39-year-old.  Nicholas had only seconds to react the Emerito home was filling with smoke and flames. Mimi jumped from Nicholas’ chest and did something she hadn’t done since the Emeritos had adopted her she bound down the  stairs and woke Angie and Pete  then she ran back to the living room and through the smoke and flames raced upstairs  and woke the the rest of the Emerito children barking and pawing at each child’s chest — the oldest Emerito children  at first went back to sleep thinking it was a dream but Mimi sensing the danger was relentless and continued her  frantic barking and pawing until they were awake. The children rose quickly and headed for the window by now the only means of escape.  From the account in the Danbury NewsTimes Anthony, the Emerito’s 13-year-old son leaped from the window into his father’s arms who had escaped seconds earlier. According to Pete, “Edward, a large boy,” and the oldest of the Emerito children got stuck in the window. Seconds seemed like hours as the 16 years Danbury High student tried to free himself. In the meantime, neighbors called the fire department. As  Danbury police and fire department personnel raced to the scene, Edward freed himself and fell his father breaking his fall as he reached the ground. The Emerito girls: Debbie 15, Lisa, 11 and Patti, 9 likewise escaped to safety. Outside the scene was one of confusion as the Emeritos struggled to account for each other the home was in flames.   Nicholas Emerito, beside himself, had accounted for every member of the family except one- Mimi. “Mimi! Mimi!” Nicholas yelled as Pete recalls. Flames and smoke poured from the house then out from the burning house came the small poodle the hair on her back singed. 46 years on Pete Emerito remembers vividly what happened next. Mimi approached “each family member and sniffed them,” when she was satisfied the family was safe the tiny 4-year-old dog settled down likely next to Pete. She had saved every member of the Emerito family before the fire department arrived. The fire which gutted the house started, “with a short in the refrigerator,” says Pete. The refrigerator, “shorted out the TV.” causing the fire. The fire left the Emeritos homeless but Pete says “people rallied to rebuild the house.” In the meantime, the Emeritos were separated as the family went to live with other family in the area. Despite this  Pete and Mimi always inseparable stayed together. Hat City Diggers asked Pete why the dog had bonded with him more than the other Emeritos to this day Pete says that he doesn’t know.


On January 31 the Danbury NewsTimes ran the story about the fire and Mimi’s heroism on the front page.  Word spread.  Pete says that the AP picked up the story.  Ultimately in February of 1972— she was honored with an award of merit by the Danbury Fire Department. In attendance was Danbury Fire Chief Joseph Bertalovitz. However, the honors didn’t stop there.  According to Pete,  the story became national news. Everyone was learning about the hero dog of Danbury. Mimi even made the New York Times.


According to Pet Food Industry.com, Ken L- Ration started with the Chapple brothers of Rockford Ill in the 1920s and was the first dog food to come in a can. In the 1940s Quaker oats purchased the company.  The name Ken L- Ration a play on the war era word K-ration was adopted.  By 1972 Ken L- Ration was still one of the nations leading dog foods and every year Ken L- Ration honored dogs around the country for their heroism. Thomas McLaughlin Supervisor of pet food information for Ken L- Ration contacted the Emerito family with the news “The committee for selection of dogs to receive the Ken L-Ration bronze Dog Hero medal is very happy to inform you that your dog, Mimi has been chosen for this honor.” In addition, Mimi was a finalist for Ken L-Ration Dog Hero of the Year award for 1972. The family waited  for more news.


That summer The Godfather was playing at the Danbury Drive-in, the Rolling Stones played a sold-out show in Madison Square Garden and Jim Barbaries was running their lobster special twin lobsters for $5.95.  Also that summer The Quaker Oats Company and Ken L-Ration decided which dog of the finalist would be dog hero of the year for 1972. My mom found out first. She found out through the mail,” says Pete Emerito. “She shared the news around the dinner table everybody was happy, everybody was elated.” Mimi had beat the other finalist and won dog hero for 1972. Pete has vivid memories of the event that transpired.  Quaker Oats flew Pete, his father, his mother and Mimi by 747 to California for the dinner and the awards ceremony. Mimi the Toy poodle from Danbury, Ct was the guest of honor. All the tables were set up with stuffed dogs on them recalls Pete. “It was magnificent” According to the Newstimes the dinner was held at the plush Farmont Hotel in San Francisco. Pete, Angie and Nicholas sat up front Mimi the guest of honor wasn’t far behind she had her own spot behind the Emeritos.   Mimi was the first poodle ever to receive the award. In addition to a gold medal, Mimi received a gold collar and lead,  a year supply of Ken L- Ration dog food and a custom made blanket. Mimi’s owners were presented with a $1000 bond.


The notoriety didn’t stop with Pete, Angie and Nicholas. Lisa, the  Emerito’s 11-year-old daughter was a guest on the game show To Tell the Truth in 1973. In addition, the September 27 issue of the Weekly Reader featured the Emerito family and Mimi.  Mimi wearing her gold medal is seen on the cover happily sitting in 6-year-old Pete Emerito’s lap. At school, the Emerito children were treated like celebrities. In 1983 ten years after the fire Mimi was saluted again this time in the Book of Lists. Irving Wallace, Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky added the story of Mimi’s heroism to- Book of List 3, Pete still has a copy.  During her life, Pete says that Mimi didn’t let the celebrity go to her head and the family didn’t treat her any different. Pete says that eventually Mimi even had puppies.  In 1977 on Memorial day Mimi died of natural causes she was 9. In the years since the fire and Mimi’s death, the Emeritos have had both good and bad experiences in their lives reports Pete.  Edward, Nicholas and Angie’s oldest son, a heavy smoker and diabetic died in 2008 he was 53.  Pete’s sister Patti the only Emerito child still living in Danbury is a bus driver she has been with the company for 27 years. She is married and has two children. Lisa Emerito the red-haired star of To Tell the Truth has also dealt with the impact of diabetes, which runs in the Emerito family according to Pete.  She is now disabled. Nicholas Emerito, the family patriarch, died from cancer in 1989.  Anthony, who jumped into his father’s arms below the burning house lives in Florida with his wife and 2 children.  Debbie is a widow with three children and Angie now 83  lives in Florida. Pete Emerito lost his first wife but has since remarried.  Pete reports that for the most part the Emeritos have had good lives since the fire but  “We all have choices” the 52-year-old father of two tells Hat City Diggers.


Lastly, on that cold January night in 1972 Mimi cared less about her own safety and more about the safety of others. Unheard of in a dog? Not really. Dogs have an inherent ability to bond with people and the relationships that form are unconditional. For instance, a check of YouTube videos by Hat City Diggers turned up hundreds of results about dog heroism, be it saving a baby from an oncoming train or jumping out of a helicopter into frigid waters. But dogs don’t have to be heroes for us to love them, a warm lick on the face will do and the bond forged by this can last even after death. More than 14,000 years ago humans were burying dogs with their dead. This bond may go back further we just don’t know.  From his home in Florida Pete says that the fire of 1972 has stayed with him his whole life. Needless to say a different kind of flame burns for the Emerito family today. In the living room of Pete’s home is a large picture of Mimi next to it Pete keeps Mimi’s ashes as a reminder of how life is temporary and fragile “I’m extremely lucky,” says Pete. “I’m a very grateful person knowing the outcome and what could have been… If we didn’t get that dog,” Pete reflects,  “we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”