AIKEN — Man’s best friend can also be his life saver.
Ace, a black cocker spaniel dappled with white, woke up his owner, Matt Viola, and alerted him that his Aiken home was up in flames several weeks ago.
About a month ago, Ace was only given a two to three weeks to live after a tumor was found in his mouth.
But, Ace is still alive and so is Viola thanks to his canine companion.
Viola, 29, remembered playing with Ace, watching a movie and then falling asleep with his dog by his side. Then Viola, who describes himself as a deep sleeper, was awakened by Ace barking.
“He went crazy,” Viola said. “When I woke up, the room was orange.”
Viola ran out of the house with his puppy, Spades, following behind him. Viola said his next instinct was to grab a hose but then he noticed Ace wasn’t outside.
Viola found himself barging through the door of the burning house, got onto the ground and crawled around the couch looking for Ace.
He didn’t see his dog at first but then went to a coffee table that Ace typically sleeps under and found him.
“He was scared,” Viola said. “You could tell. He was shaking. I grabbed him, ran through the kitchen and out the back door.”
Nobody was injured in the fire, and Viola suffered from just a little smoke inhalation. Viola said most of what happened that night was a blur, but he does remember that it was terrifying.
Though much of Viola’s belongings were destroyed in the fire, it doesn’t matter much to him because he still has his dogs.
“The dogs were the most important thing. They can’t be replaced, and that’s the only thing I was worried about,” Viola said. “I’m very grateful that he (Ace) got out. I would have went from room to room to find him.”
More than a month before the fire, Ace started acting a little strange, so Viola took him to the veterinarian.
A tumor was found in Ace’s mouth and was wrapped around his teeth and removing it would cause more harm than good. The veterinarian didn’t think Ace would be able to eat as the tumor got bigger, Viola said.
“That was harder than the fire — hearing that he only had a few weeks,” Viola said. “It was such a shock because he has been by my side for the last nine years.”
Viola said that Ace has been on an antibiotic, and he has been making sure his food is mashed up and soft enough that he can comfortably ingest it. Ace has been eating “like a champ” and has been doing OK since his diagnosis.
Ace is simple to please — he loves naps and car rides.
Ace came into Viola’s life when he was at a get-together at a friend’s house. Ace was kept in the bathroom away from guests, and nobody even knew he was there because he never barked, Viola said.
Viola found Ace later that night and said he looked just like his childhood dog, Casey. Viola spent two hours away from the party playing with the puppy.
Later, that friend was moving and was selling a few of his belongings. Viola asked how much Ace was, but his friend said the puppy was going with him.
Viola was persistent and kept asking about Ace. Finally, his friend gave in and sold the cocker spaniel to him.
When family and friends heard about Ace alerting Viola of the fire, it wasn’t a very shocking story to them.
“I don’t think many of them were surprised because they know that he’s always by my side,” Viola said as he gently ruffled the fur on Ace’s head. “He’s protective of me. He’s always been there through the hard stuff.”