Terry Smaczylo said he's only alive today because his dogs alerted him to the smoke filling his second-storey suite on Grove Street early Friday morning.
And he returned the favour, scooping up his pooch, Penny, and the dog's five Pomeranian cross puppies before heading for the safety of the street below.
Smaczylo, along with three others living on the main floor, escaped from the burning Point Douglas home just before firefighters arrived at about 7 a.m. He was the only one injured, receiving medical help for minor smoke inhalation and a bump to his head when he fell down the stairs while escaping.
Smaczylo lost two cats in the blaze but admitted things could have been much worse.
"(The dogs) saved my life. They woke me up," he said. "The dogs saved me, and I saved the dogs."
His daughter, just 12, was staying with family members and was not home at the time of the fire.
Three others in the house in the 100 block of Grove Street, all renters, escaped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
Gertie Lamoureux was in the main-floor suite with her husband and 29-year-old grandson when the fire broke out inside the two-storey home.
"I heard my grandson scream, 'My foot, my foot,' so I went running," Lamoureux said. "And you could see flames coming from the floor to the end of his mattress. It wasn't a big red flame but it was going right to the ceiling."
After trying to put out flames with a bucket of water, the three ran out of the house.
"The flames were so bad... you couldn't breathe. You had to get out," Lamoureux said, adding she was in her housecoat but grabbed a jacket on the way out.
Fortunately, her van keys were in the jacket pocket. But she was pretty sure nothing else in the house can be salvaged.
"We have nothing... nothing," she said.
The family lost a cat and a dog in the fire, but another dog made it out safely.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and no damage estimate was set.
Craig Lessard, the District 3 chief with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said the home was "fully involved" when crews arrived.
"Four people self-evacuated," he said just before 8 a.m.
As many as five fire trucks and a pair of ambulances were scattered along the block.
Later Friday morning, Smaczylo was still in shock and his hands trembled as he clutched a coffee cup at a neighbour's home.
Smaczylo lost everything in the fire, but was relieved he and his pets survived.
And so was his good friend, Joni-Lyn Bodnar.
"I told him not to worry. Thank God they all got out alive," she said. "He's lost everything. He only has the clothes on his back. But those are materialistic things, and you'd be surprised how people will come together to help.
"In a time like this, people will help."