DES MOINES - Angela Fullmer already had enough to handle. She'd recently completed her bachelor's degree in health care administration and she had given birth to her ninth baby just three months before.
She also had two dogs to care for while her trucker husband was out of town.
So at 1:30 a.m. March 15, when one of the dogs was barking like crazy in their Des Moines home, she lit up.
"Capone," she yelled, "Shut up! You're going to wake the baby."
He wouldn't shut up.
She called for Capone to come to her.
He wouldn't come.
The dog always comes, she said, ever since she and husband, Isaac, rescued the wandering stray from a busy highway 18 months ago.
Capone, a mix of miniature pinscher, Chihuahua and whippet, just looked at her and ran back to the kitchen, an instinctive maneuver that has placed him among national dog heroes.
Fullmer, 32 - who has a sense about dogs - thought something wasn't right. Tired as she was, she went to check out what was going on in the kitchen.
The plug for the microwave was on fire. She had used it shortly before going to bed to heat up a snack, she said.
The fire seemed small at first, but she knew better than to throw water on an electric fire. She needed to get the kids out fast. She scooped up baby Atreyu, then grabbed her 20-month-old toddler Mondecai, because he was sleeping nearest the kitchen. She yelled for her oldest, Landon, 12, to help gather the other children.
By the time most of the children were heading out, flames shot up to the kitchen ceiling and the smoke alarm finally went off. She called 911 and did a roll call.
"We always do a roll call every time we get in the van," she said. "They're used to it."
Landon, 12, Alexander, 10, Jadzia, 9, Ronan, 7, Inara, 6, Mezoti, 5, Khaleesi, 3, Mondecai, 20 months, and Atreyu, now five months, were all present and accounted for outside the house.
He walked out
on his own. "He saved himself," she said.
The family lost everything but their lives. The home they were renting from parents was uninhabitable. Water and smoke damage left them with nothing. They received donations of clothing and other items. The family holed up in a hotel room until they found two apartments that could house them all.
Capone, who is 2 ½, had to stay at a friends' home. He was so upset he didn't eat for three days. When Capone returned, he wouldn't leave the baby's side during her "tummy time" on a blanket.
Capone slept at the feet of 10-year-old Alexander every night. The two have a special bond.
Soon, the family will be in a new home with a large fenced-in yard. The Fullmers have since purchased a five-bedroom home and
Capone will be happy to know he will soon enjoy a new large fenced-in yard. The Fullmers have since purchased a five-bedroom home and will move in May 24.
Nothing is too grand for the dog now.
He had barked and barked for two minutes before the fire alarm even went off and the house already going up in flames, Fullmer figures. He had saved their lives.
"He's pretty special," Fullmer said.
When friends heard about the fire, they expressed condolences for the loss of her dog. They thought he had died.
Capone has never been more alive, barking protectively, running about and taking his rightful place as family hero.
"He loves his family," Fullmer said.
Fullmer entered Capone into the American Humane Hero Dog Awards.
Semifinal winners of the online contest www.herodogawards.org will be announced May 17, and a second round of online and celebrity voting will produce eight winners to take part in a two-hour Hallmark Channel special and vie for a $5,000 prize to go to charity.
This rescue dog who became rescuer already has gathered his prize at home - nine playmates who are safe because of him.
"I'm glad we found him on the highway," Fullmer said. "I believe it was supposed to happen."