Man’s Best Friend, Indeed: This Pit Bull Fought Off a Shark to Save His Owner

There's no way the shark would take a chunk out of his owner—not on Darby's watch

Everyone wanted a piece of the dog that got a piece of the shark. “I got emails from people in Russia. One guy offered me a hundred euros. Another guy found me at work and offered me $575 ‘cash right now.’ I said, ‘Keep walking, buddy,’ ” James White says of the offers he got for his dog, Darby. “It got to the point where I started saying, ‘No, no, no, that’s not me.’ ”

When White, a 43-year-old security agent from Rohnert Park, California, snagged the pit bull puppy in 2018, Darby was just another four-legged lug: young, friendly, playful, strong as an ox.

Then, in the summer of 2019, came Darby’s date with destiny.

Darby springs into action as a hero pet

White was fishing in Northern California’s Bodega Bay. He left Darby, then a year old and 100 pounds, to chill in the parked car, windows down, while he cast his line a few yards away. The fish weren’t biting, White recalls, until suddenly, they were.

At first, White thought he had hooked a stingray. But as he reeled it in, he realized it was a sevengill shark, about 6 feet long. Not uncommon, but still dangerous. “Their teeth are gnarly,” White says. He brought it close and carefully unhooked it, expecting it to swim away. It didn’t.

“The shark clamped down on my ankle,” says White. “All of a sudden there was blood everywhere.”

He yelled for help, hoping the two fishermen at the far end of the beach could hear. But they didn’t seem to know what was happening. Fortunately, Darby did. He hurled himself out an open window of the car and down the embankment toward the water. He ran right up to the shark and sank his teeth into its gills.

“That just made the shark bite down harder,” White says. Darby backed off, then regrouped and latched onto the shark’s tail. The shark released its grip, and White managed to push it into shallow water, where it swam off.

“The whole thing took less than a minute,” White says—but it left plenty of damage. White was able to stop the bleeding and get to the hospital, where he learned that an artery had been punctured and nearly severed.

That would’ve been the end of it, had Darby’s story not gone viral. White was contacted by NBC News and CNN. That’s when the countless cash offers started to come in.

But the big dog was not for sale. He had another job to do.

Darby: A hero at home too

At the time of the attack, White lived with his parents, James Sr. and Pam. When White’s mother passed in early 2022, Darby and James Sr. became inseparable. Being James Sr.’s best buddy has been Darby’s greatest gift to the family.

“We were worried. Sometimes when one parent goes, the other can get really depressed. But I know that Darby’s here, so I don’t worry,” says White.

Today, White’s shark bite is long healed, but Darby (aka the House Hippo) is a bigger hero than ever. “All he wants is to be surrounded by his humans,” says White. “If my dad makes a hamburger, Darby gets a hamburger, with a bun. That’s his best day. He’s got it made.”

“Pit bulls have a bad reputation, but they’ll give their life to save yours,” White says. “Someone could offer me a million dollars for him, and I wouldn’t take it.”

Next, read more of our hero pet stories, including the pet squirrel who thwarted a robbery.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest