"He's been a good dog," said Thomas Prasso Sr., 77, as his 8-year-old black Labrador-German shepherd mix lay on the floor of McLaughlin's office in Flushing, panting excitedly.
Prasso, a retired postal clerk, escaped out his bedroom window onto the roof above his front porch after his dog, Hercules Apollo, woke him up by barking at around 8 a.m. on Dec. 31.
"I knew something out of the ordinary was going on," Prasso said. "I opened my bedroom door and I tried to go downstairs, but I couldn't see because there was a lot of smoke. I had to feel around the wall to get back to my room."
Two police officers from the 107th Precinct arrived at Prasso's three-story house at 61-28 156th St. at 8:23 a.m. and brought Prasso down from the roof using a ladder from a neighbor across the street.
The officers then entered the burning house through the front door and pulled Hercules out of thick smoke just as fire trucks were arriving on the scene.
"While we often pause to honor bravery of the human kind, we sometimes neglect to acknowledge the valor of the other species. This dog was really 'man's best friend,'" said McLaughlin, before presenting Hercules with a proclamation from the New York State Assembly, a lifetime supply of Purina Pro Plan dog food and a gift basket from Petland Discounters containing "Good Boy Cookies," a purple sports ball, rubber toys and a pet hair pick-up roller.
McLaughlin said he and his staff have raised $10,000 in private funds to train one dog to sniff out bombs in Israel for an initiative called Pups for Peace, which would help prevent further deaths from suicide bombings.
Dogs are beautiful companions that are invaluable for seniors, and it is a shame that there is no city-funded animal adoption facility in the borough, the assemblyman added.
"With this recognition today, I hope to not only thank Hercules but to demonstrate that he is more than just a pet. He is a savior," McLaughlin said. "Like so many other such dogs, especially for the elderly and people who live alone, they are companions with a calling who add to the quality of life and often make the difference between life and death."
The Prasso family adopted Hercules when he was seven weeks old from the North Shore Animal League, an adoption facility in Port Jefferson, L.I., said Prasso's daughter, Ellen Prasso, 40, at the reward ceremony.
"He's very good, and he's excitable," the daughter said. "When he gets overexcited, that's when (my father) knows that something's wrong."
She added that in the past, Hercules had alerted her father when she was having seizures.
Prasso lives with three family members, but he was the only person in his house when the fire started in the basement. His daughter, Ellen, had gone to Pomonok, where she works as a caretaker, and his two granddaughters, Sharrisse, 18, and Jessica, 14, had spent the night at friends' houses.
"I think God works in mysterious ways," Ellen Prasso said. "For some reason, I thought I was running late, and something pushed me to leave my house early."
Ellen Prasso said before leaving for work, she put a load of laundry in the clothes dryer in the basement, and fire officials believe that the fire started from the dryer.
"It's a gas dryer. It wasn't a new one," Ellen Prasso said. "I lost all of my clothes."
The Prassos are currently living in a railroad apartment on Depot Road in Flushing, down the street from McLaughlin's office. The family hopes to be able to return to their home in Fresh Meadows, where Prasso has lived since 1956, after it is repaired.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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