Sako

Sako is an energetic four-year-old King Shepherd who, as a puppy, joined a big family within the close-knit community of Kanaka Bar, British Columbia. Sako grew up surrounded by friends and family members, and as a result, developed a very strong, protective instinct over the years. It would be this instinct that would push Sako to go above and beyond to protect the life of a loved one on June 10, 2014 in his most desperate time of need.

It was a sunny day in June, when 16-year-old Joseph Phillips-Garcia set out on a family road trip an hour out of town with his aunt, cousin, friend and Sako. They would eventually meet up with other family members near Botanie Lake to go fishing and wild potato picking – a very popular cultural activity in the community. Later that evening, on the group’s journey home, their vehicle suddenly lost control on the road, rolling down a steep embankment of more than 100 metres into the woods.

During the devastating fall, Joseph and Sako were thrown from the vehicle. Tragically, they were the only survivors. Joseph, stranded deep down the embankment, suffered a broken femur and collar bone which left him severely injured and unable to move. He remained in the woods – in and out of consciousness, cold, in pain and without food, as well as vulnerable to attacks by wild, predatory animals – for two days.

However, Joseph was not alone. Miraculously, Sako also survived the accident, and being the caring and protective dog that he is, stayed by Joseph’s side, keeping watch and helping him in whatever way he could during their time in the woods. To help keep him warm, Sako lay close to Joseph and helped move wood closer to him so he could make a fire with the lighter he had in his pocket. To keep him hydrated, Sako helped Joseph to drag himself closer to a nearby creek so he could drink some water. To keep him safe, Sako ran into the bushes and surrounding area to fend off coyotes and other predatory animals who were circling the crash site, howling and posing an imminent threat to Joseph.

More than 40 hours later, on June 12, 2014, Joseph was finally located. His cousin, who was out searching for Joseph, spotted him. The RCMP, along with search and rescue crews, were immediately called to the scene. Because of the steepness of the embankment, it took about three hours for crews to reach and safely remove Joseph from the site of the accident and rush him to a hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries and months of recuperation from his injuries.

It has been nearly a year since this terrible and tragic accident. Joseph is still recovering both physically and emotionally. There is no question for Joseph of the crucial role Sako played in his ability to survive this painful, frightening and life-threatening experience. Not only did Sako’s protective and heroic actions help keep Joseph safe, it was also Sako’s devotion and unyielding companionship that gave him the hope and the courage to hold on until he was found.

Badger

Badger, a loyal 11-year-old Lab-Rottweiler mix, was abandoned in the woods as a puppy and rescued by his now forever-grateful owner, Derik Hodgson, over 10 years ago. Derik, a 71-year-old retiree, is a passionate photographer, outdoor enthusiast and life-long animal lover. Living alone in a remote cabin in Elgin, Ontario, Derik quickly grew to rely on Badger as soon as he brought him home – first as a trusted companion, and then as a faithful best friend. Little did he know that Badger would also eventually become his life-saving hero.

It was a frigid February afternoon with temperatures dipping below -20º Celsius. Derik noticed some eagles flying around above the lake near his cabin and decided to head out with Badger to capture some photographs. Worried the eagles might fly away quickly, he rushed out of the cabin with Badger and they set out towards the lake to capture a few quick photos. In his haste, Derik neglected to wear his winter jacket and left his cell phone behind.

Once they reached the edge of the lake, Derik continued walking onto the frozen waters with Badger alongside him. Suddenly, he lost his balance, slipped and fell down with extreme force on the ice. At first, Derik tried to get up on his own, but could not bring himself to his feet. Panic and shock overcame him, followed by severe pain that shot up his entire leg. The pain was a result of his leg being broken in two places along with a ruptured tendon – essentially crippling him on the ice with no one in sight. Derik tried yelling, desperately hoping for someone to hear him, but to no avail.

Sensing something was terribly wrong, Badger circled his owner, nudging him and barking. However, instead of getting up and leading them back home, Derik continued to lie on his back, shivering. Fading in and out of consciousness due to the pain and cold temperatures, he looked up to see Badger standing right over him and caught a glimpse of his red collar. Recalling the pair’s old skijoring days, Derik grabbed onto Badger’s collar firmly, and yelled “MUSH, BADGER, MUSH!” It was a very different scenario, but just as Derik knew he would, Badger recognized that he needed help and started to pull him ever so slightly off of the frozen lake.

Derik gripped even harder onto Badger’s collar, and Badger continued to pull him all the way back to his cabin – about a 400 metre stretch and up a slight hill. Once at the door, he was able to get inside his cabin and reach for his cell phone to call for help. By the time the ambulance arrived, paramedics reported that Derik was already on the verge of being severely hypothermic.

Today, Derik is still recovering at home after more than a year of many doctor and physical therapist appointments. He was hospitalized and confined to a wheelchair for several weeks until he regained his strength and mobility. Had it not been for Badger’s unwavering determination and devotion that day in coming to his rescue, Derik believes he definitely would not have made it off the ice in time and would have succumbed to his injuries. It was a close call, and Derik is eternally thankful that his best friend was there for him when he needed him most – ultimately saving his life.

Nettle

Nettle, an intelligent, two-year-old Yellow Labrador with a truly keen sense of smell, joined the Bordman family in 2013. She provided Terry and Beata Bordman with a much needed extra set of hands – or rather, paws – to help care for their 12-year-old twin daughters Brooke and Jade who suffer from two life-threatening conditions: Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac disease.

As one of the first diabetic alert dogs to graduate from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, Nettle was already considered a special service animal, but her role in caring for the Bordman twins would make her even more extraordinary – in that she would be responsible for the life of not just one, but two young girls.

Ever since Brooke and Jade were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac disease at age three, Terry and Beata have worked tirelessly to track their daughters’ blood sugar levels throughout the day, making sure they didn’t drop too low or rise too high. This is especially challenging with children as they don’t always know to alert someone to a change in their sugar levels fast enough, leaving them dangerously susceptible to potentially fatal diabetic comas. Further, the twins’ severe allergy to gluten creates an added layer of complication as the family has to be extra careful about the kind of foods and sugars the girls can eat when treating diabetic lows.

Difficult enough to manage during the day, the most challenging time to monitor these conditions is during the night when Brooke and Jade are asleep. Before Nettle joined the household, Terry and Beata took shifts checking the girls’ sugar levels several times throughout the night. Not only was this tiresome for the young girls, but it was also quite exhausting and extremely stressful for Terry and Beata, who were constantly worried about the safety of their girls, as well as the speed and accuracy of their nighttime checks.

But this would all change once the family met Nettle.

In 2013, the Bordman family was referred to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides for its new diabetic alert dog program. They were soon introduced to Nettle – an eager puppy with powerful intuition and a sharp nose who was ready and willing to make a big difference in the Bordman family’s quality of life.

Within the first few days of joining their home, Nettle immediately went to work, alerting Terry and Beata that Jade was suffering a serious diabetic low in the middle of the night. Alarmingly, this severe low would have otherwise gone unnoticed by Jade’s parents as it was between their regular nighttime checks. The potential outcome is too difficult for the family to even consider.

This would be only the first of many life-saving alerts. From that point onward, Nettle has come to the rescue of the twins time and time again – constantly watching over the lives of Brooke and Jade, and finally giving Terry and Beata peace of mind that their daughters are safe. From alerting Terry and Beata, to even fetching the girls’ sugar kits when they are suffering from a diabetic low, Nettle can be counted on to always be there for Brooke and Jade.

Nettle’s unique story is one that has served to inspire and pave the way for new diabetic alert dogs in Canada – she is a true trailblazer in this service animal category. To the Bordman family, Nettle is not only Brooke and Jade’s eternal life-saver, she’s the entire family’s “guardian angel”.

Bella

On July 10, 2014, Rob Sheardown adopted an Anatolian Shepherd from the Windsor/Essex Humane Society. Her name was Bella and it quickly became apparent that she was an extremely obedient and well-trained dog. At the time, Rob thought he was simply coming home with a new companion for himself. He never imagined that rescuing Bella would in turn save the life of another person.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in late November 2014, Rob returned to his Windsor apartment with Bella after their daily walk in the park. As always, Rob walked into his building towards the lobby with Bella by his side, and the duo proceeded to enter the ground floor elevator together. Being the obedient dog that she was, Bella would never stray from this routine or challenge any of Rob’s orders. That is, until this day.

For reasons unknown to Rob at the time, Bella refused to get into the elevator. Instead, Bella tugged at her leash, pulling him away from the area and back towards the lobby. Confused by her bizarre behaviour, Rob tried to redirect Bella, ordering her several times to follow him, but no matter how many times he tried, she wouldn’t listen. Finally, Bella tugged on her leash hard enough that she was able to pull Rob away from the elevator completely and lead him further into the lobby, behind one of the couches.

Completely perplexed, Rob followed Bella and to his surprise, behind the couch on the floor lay an elderly man clearly in need of help. He was pale, sweating profusely and distraught. Rob immediately helped the man up on the couch and asked him what was wrong. The man complained of severe pain in his chest – it soon became quite evident that this man was having a heart attack. Rob called an ambulance, and as they waited for it to arrive, Bella sat beside the man with her paw on his arm. Bella did not leave his side until paramedics arrived to take him to the closest hospital.

Thanks to Bella’s keen intuition, persistence, and determination, the elderly man received the medical attention he needed just in the nick of time. In a situation where every second counts, the paramedics who arrived on the scene said that if the man had remained on his own in the lobby for much longer, he would not have survived. Rob, being hard of hearing in one ear, and knowing how empty his lobby typically is on Sundays, is convinced that no one – not even himself – would have discovered the man in time, had it not been for Bella’s keen sense that someone was in need of help and her quick thinking.

To this day, Rob continues to be amazed at Bella and how she was able to come to the aid of a complete stranger. When Rob looks at Bella now, he no longer sees a dog who was rescued, but a dog who is a rescuer.