WATCH: Hero Puppy Grows up to Save the Lives of the Texas Family That Saved Him
"I can honestly tell you there's no way we would be here without Zero."
When Zero found his pack three years ago, he was limping on a broken ankle and riddled with mange. The Great Pyrenees puppy was just one month old when the Martinez family came across him by chance, alone and abandoned on the side of a Texas highway.
When they took him to the vet, they were told that Zero didn't have a chance and were advised to put him down immediately. But they couldn't do it. Mom Laurie told The Washington Post that her children were already too attached—plus, they saw something special in him.
The kids named the sickly pup Zero, after Jack Skellington's ghost dog in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. But as he grew healthy, strong, and fiercely loyal, they began to call him something else: "Zero the hero."
Today, Martinez believes the decision to save Zero is the reason she's alive.
"We were meant to find him," she told the Post. "And what he did was what he was meant to do. That's the only thought making it any better."
On March 10,Martinez was grilling hot dogs and hamburgers in her front yard, with Zero lounging at her feet. Inside the house, more than a dozen kids were celebrating her daughter's 12th birthday. The mood, she said, was jovial. That is until Javian Castaneda, a longtime family friend, pulled up to her driveway.
Martinez suspected that the 17-year-old had recently broken into her Houston-area house and had confronted him the day before. It wasn't long before Castaneda and the family were arguing in the driveway. When Martinez asked him to leave, he lunged at her and hit her in the face. One of her sons began fighting back, but Castaneda pulled out a gun.
Martinez estimates that Castaneda fired at least nine times. With the crack of his first shot hitting the garage door, Zero leapt at Castaneda.
He kept firing, hitting Zero in the chest and one of Martinez's sons in the foot. Then Zero got back up and leaped at Castaneda again.
"Zero just did it instinctively," Martinez said. "I guess he just knew that when that thing hit him, it hurt."
The bullets kept coming. Castaneda shot Zero in the ear, and Martinez's stepdaughter twice in the back. Zero pounced a final time and took another bullet in the stomach. When Martinez ran toward her dog, Castaneda shot her in the leg and fled.
"I can honestly tell you there's no way we would be here without Zero," Martinez told the Post. "The reason why all our wounds are below the waist is because every time Zero jumped up . . . it kept him from being able to aim."
While Martinez was being rushed to the hospital, another of her sons and a neighbor took Zero, who then appeared paralyzed, to the vet.
This time they had no choice. They put Zero down that day.
But thanks to Zero, Martinez, her stepdaughter, and her son are all home recovering from their wounds. With mounting hospital bills and repairs, she said they're still tallying the financial costs of the shooting.
But the biggest loss, Martinez said, will always be Zero.