Purina Better Together Award – Kim and Coco’s Story: I never ever wanted a dog but my husband and daughters talked me into taking get Coco – a 2 year old dog who was being given away because his owner was going away to school and her mom was a nurse and worked long hours and didn’t have the time to dedicate to Coco. I was a bit resentful when the first minute he walked into my brand new home he decided to leave a present for me right on my kitchen floor. I had only agreed to take him for the weekend for a trial run and after this little incident couldn’t wait to send him back to his own home. That night however seeing him jump on my daughter’s beds and sniffing them to ensure they were ok – melted my heart and I instantly fell in love with him and he became my third child. Two years later my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. My whole family was devastated to say the least. She deteriorated quickly over the next 8 months and just to breathe was a struggle. The picture I have submitted is a day close to the end of her life. Normally Coco is always in the kitchen waiting for food to drop but this particular day and every day after he went right into the living room where my mother’s hospital bed was and laid beside her and never left her side until we would leave to go home. After my mother’s passing my father was very lonely after living with my mom for 50 years – he was a lost soul without her. Coco and I would go visit him often and Coco would jump on his lap every time and he brought comfort and joy to my dad each and every time. He is a blessing from God to our family and I’m not sure what we will ever do without him when the time comes. The love I feel for him is so strong and I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t want a dog. He is our hero each and every day.
Port Hope, ON
Skylar, a three-year-old, golden retriever from Port Hope, Ontario, exemplifies all of the well-known characteristics of his breed – a sweet, energetic and caring companion to his owner Grace Goheen, 74.
On a cold December afternoon in 2015, Grace set out for a walk with Skylar in a secluded wooded valley located two and a half kilometers from their home. Like any dog, Skylar loves to explore the great outdoors, so on this particular day, Grace extended his leash to 20 feet as they meandered through the valley. After wandering for some time, Skylar smelled something intriguing and ran ahead. As Skylar set off to investigate, Grace slipped and fell on the hard ground, breaking her hip.
In excruciating pain, and despite numerous efforts, Grace could not get back on her feet. Since she had no cell phone to call for help, she attempted the journey back home by pulling her body backwards using her arms and her good leg. However, still a great distance from home, she realized the enormity of her situation and that it would be impossible for her get there on her own. After an hour passed and through sheer exhaustion, Grace gave up and began to cry out of pain, desperation and fear of what might happen if they weren’t found soon. It was getting dark and having previously heard the howls of bears and coyotes in the area, she was petrified of the dangerous wildlife that roamed there at night.
A short time later, Grace decided to unleash Skylar, but based on their incredibly close bond he wouldn’t leave her side. She then began to yell for help in hopes that someone would hear her, but also knew full well that no one usually came to the area this time of year. Her clothes were now completely drenched through to her skin from the melted snow and to make matters worse, a cold rain started to fall. With little hope of being rescued, Grace lay on the ground, shivering profusely and overcome with emotion.
Finally, two bright headlights appeared in the distance and, much to Grace’s relief, it was her neighbour, Mike who was driving nearby. Grace urgently prompted Skylar to, “go find Mike!” but to her confusion, he ran in the opposite direction of the headlights. It soon became clear that Skylar was in fact thinking ahead and wanted a signal to help alert Mike of the situation. Skylar ran back to the spot where Grace had dropped her mittens hours prior, picked one up in his mouth and ran back towards the headlights.
Stopping his truck, Mike looked over to see Skylar running towards him. Concerned about why the dog was all alone, he noticed Skylar holding a mitten in his mouth. Based on this, Mike understood Skylar was trying to tell him something. So he got out of his truck and followed Skylar into the bush – where he eventually discovered Grace lying injured on the ground and shaking from the cold. Amazed by how Skylar guided him there, Mike immediately covered Grace with his jacket and called the paramedics. Grace was taken to the hospital, treated for hypothermia and admitted to surgery to fix her hip.
Over a year later, Grace has now fully recovered from the accident – but never forgets how close she came to losing her life. A local police officer felt compelled to recognize Skylar for his heroism – nominating him as a Purina Animal Hall of Fame inductee. After all, it was thanks to Skylar’s intelligence, quick thinking and resourcefulness that led to Grace’s survival in what could have been a fatal night in the snowy wilderness.
Becky Jo is an attentive five-year-old Australian shepherd/border collie cross from Edmonton, Alberta who is a loyal companion to her owner Tracy Matkea. Every year, Tracy and her husband Butch spend the winter at their ranch in Morristown, Arizona – where they raise and train horses for barrel racing. Tracy, who has long been active on the rodeo circuit, often brings Becky Jo with her while out training on horseback in the desert terrain. One morning Becky Jo proved to be much more than her trusted sidekick.
January 10, 2016 began just like any other day. Tracy embarked on a test ride with a young horse and ventured down a dry riverbed 500 yards from her home, with Becky Jo following closely behind.
During the ride, the horse suddenly got spooked and threw Tracy from the saddle and onto the ground, knocking her unconscious instantly. Adding to the already perilous situation, Tracy’s foot was caught in the stirrup of the saddle and the horse dragged her unconscious body along the rough and rocky desert terrain for almost a kilometer. Eventually Tracy’s foot came loose and the horse returned to the ranch house without her.
When the horse arrived home without Tracy Butch was very confused, but only realized that something much more alarming had happened when Becky Jo also returned alone. Upon her arrival, Becky Jo started circling the driveway and barking repeatedly to alert him that something was terribly wrong. In a panic, Butch hopped onto an ATV and followed Becky Jo almost five kilometers from the family home to find Tracy lying motionless on the ground and bleeding profusely.
Butch immediately took Tracy to the nearest hospital. There they determined that based on the extent of her injuries she needed to be airlifted to Phoenix. There she received lifesaving treatment for the serious injuries she endured, including extreme facial and head lacerations, a broken orbital bone and a major concussion.
More than 100 stitches and staples later, Tracy has made a full recovery and truly owes her life to Becky Jo. Without Becky Jo’s quick thinking and fast action, Tracy could very well have lost her life that day. According to doctors, had she been left bleeding for 10 minutes longer she wouldn’t have survived. Tracy always knew in her heart that Becky Jo was a smart dog and now knows that it was this intelligence that ultimately saved her life.
Leo, a Biewer Yorkshire terrier, from Ottawa, Ontario, was just four months old when his new owner Brittany Cosgrove, 26, adopted him from a local breeder. And, it was only a few days following this adoption that he showed his owner just how much determination and devotion even a small, young puppy can have.
In December 2016, only 10 days into their new relationship, Brittany brought Leo with her to her Vancouver apartment following a visit home for the holidays with her family in Ottawa. It was New Year’s Eve and after putting Leo to bed, Brittany had settled into a deep sleep herself. Suffering from insomnia, Brittany often didn’t sleep well – but when she did, it was quite difficult to wake her. So at 2 a.m., when Brittany woke to the startling noise of Leo aggressively barking, she knew he must have been trying to get her attention for a while. Puzzled as to why Leo was behaving this way, Brittany got out of bed to investigate. This was very much out of character for Leo who, until this point, had been a very quiet and reserved puppy.
Brittany thought at first Leo was warning her about an intruder. It was only when she attempted to go into her bathroom – which neighboured the very bedroom she had been sleeping in minutes before – that she witnessed flames dripping from the walls and ceiling.
Frightened by the fact that this fire had not set off any alarms, Brittany frantically reached for her phone to call the fire department. The fire started to spread even more – becoming increasingly uncontrollable.
As the blaze grew, Brittany grabbed Leo, and fled from her apartment. Shortly after, the fire had taken over the whole apartment complex, forcing 30 other residents from their homes and severely damaging the entire building. Since no smoke detectors went off that night, the other residents wouldn’t have known to evacuate if Brittany hadn’t called the fire department in time. Thankfully everyone escaped unharmed – and it was Leo’s persistent barking and perseverance to wake Brittany that began this crucial chain of events. His keen intuition to recognize the dangerous nature of the fire – new sights, sounds and smells he had never encountered before as a puppy – is what led everyone to safety.
A few weeks after the incident and after losing nearly everything she owned as a result of the fire, Brittany left Vancouver and moved back to Ottawa with her mother. Although she has had to start over again, Brittany is forever grateful to have Leo, her heroic puppy by her side as she looks to the future.
Zola, a good-natured and loveable chocolate Labradoodle, first joined the Church family almost eight years ago, despite some initial protest from Matthew Church himself. He didn’t necessarily deem himself a “dog person” but after considerable pressure (including a well-researched essay) from one of his daughters, Olivia, Matthew and his wife Patricia conceded to adding a new member to their family. What Matthew did not realize at the time, was how Zola would prove herself and make the family forever grateful she joined their clan.
At 11:40 p.m. a few weeks before Christmas 2014, Matthew returned from a long bike ride complaining to Patricia of pain in his shoulder and elbow. She gave him a couple of aspirin before Matthew headed up to the third floor of their downtown Toronto home to watch television. Suddenly and without warning his heart stopped and with it, all his vital functions. Matthew fell to the floor, and was clinically dead. Totally unaware two floors below, Patricia, was in the living room reading in front of the fire with Zola resting quietly at her feet. Patricia heard a heavy thud but ignored her typical tendencies to worry, brushed off the random noise and settled back into reading. Zola, normally a quiet dog with a relaxed demeanour, jumped to her feet and began growling, and barking at Patricia – aggressively trying to rouse her. Patricia didn’t know what to make of this behavior as it was so out of character. Zola practically chased Patricia to the base of the stairs and continued barking and growling. Not knowing what else to do, Patricia followed Zola up the stairs.
When Patricia and Zola finally reached the top of the stairs they found Matthew lying face down, immobile, turning blue and without vital signs. Patricia, a hospital-based psychiatrist trained and retrained annually in Basic Cardiac Life Support, immediately began CPR. Their daughter Alice called 911 and in less than 10 minutes paramedics arrived. In a third attempt, a defibrillator restarted Matthew’s heart and he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. He miraculously made a full recovery and truly believes he is here today thanks to Zola’s keen intuition and persistence. What exactly did Zola sense that night two floors above? We may never know. But Matthew is indebted to Zola for her actions in what instigated the incredible series of interventions that not only saved his life, but in fact brought him back to life. Zola now wears a badge of honour, a brass tag engraved with the words, “I saved my human’s life”.
Fort St. John, BC
From the moment Brent Cote met Raya, a black Labrador Retriever Norwegian Elkhound cross, he knew she was destined to be his companion. Brent was looking for a hunting dog when his wife Amanda came across a posting to adopt a one-year-old puppy. Raya took to the entire the family right away, especially to Brent. They soon discovered what she lacked in manners and training in those early days, she made up for in loyalty and dedication. Little did Brent know at the time, Raya would go above and beyond as his loyal sidekick.
In September 2015, Brent was keen to go elk hunting with now four-year-old Raya and decided to call his mom Trudy to join him. Amanda typically would go with Brent but needed to stay home to help their two young boys get ready for the start of the school year. Trudy was happy to join her son on this excursion as she loves the outdoors and walking. Over the years, Brent had trained Raya who quickly became a worthy companion on their outdoor adventures – she wears her pack carrying all of their essentials, follows right behind Brent and never strays off. On this particular day, they hiked around for several hours but as dusk set in, decided to head home and walk back along the forest cutline to return to their truck. When suddenly about 20 feet in front of them, the bush exploded and a sow bear came charging at them, huffing and clacking her teeth, to protect her young cub, at any cost. Just as quickly, Raya ran out in front of Brent (something she is trained not to do when hiking with her pack) barking and snapping at the bear in a way Brent had never heard or seen before. Raya stopped the bear in her tracks and she retreated. As Brent and Trudy started to back up, Raya stayed out in front but they were all still too close in proximity to the bear. Still feeling threatened, the bear charged for a second and then a third time, leaving Brent and Trudy fearful that this nightmare would not end well. Raya continued to keep the bear at bay. The bear, along with her cub, eventually retreated enough to allow Brent, Trudy and Raya time to get back to the truck.
Once safely inside, Trudy and Brent had a chance to fully absorb just how life-threatening this encounter was and recognize Raya’s heroic and selfless actions. There is no doubt in their minds that Raya ultimately put her life at risk that day to save theirs.
People say, “a dog is a man’s best friend”, but to Police Constable Steve Balice his K9 partner, Lonca, is much more. Lonca, a two-year-old German Shepherd, is a relatively new addition to the Toronto Police Service Canine Unit. Despite his youth, Lonca has distinguished himself as a highly determined and brave police dog, qualities that helped him, without hesitation or regard for his own well-being, protect a community, his fellow officers and his partner, one fateful night.
Late in the evening on November 23, 2015, the Toronto Police Service executed a search warrant at a residential address. Their goal was to locate evidence and suspects connected to criminal activity. While the Emergency Task Force (ETF) prepared to enter the front of the building, Lonca and Steve were stationed at the rear of the premises, to prevent any suspects from fleeing.
As the ETF breached the front door, Steve saw a man run from the building, armed with what appeared to be a weapon. He was headed towards the officers out front. Fearing for their safety, Steve warned the suspect to stop or he would release his police dog. But despite Steve’s numerous warnings, the man continued running. Concluding that both the officers and the suspect would be in grave danger if a confrontation occurred, Steve deployed Lonca. Lonca ran after the man, grabbed hold of his leg and brought him to the ground. Still the suspect refused to surrender. Getting to his feet, the man began to fight back, violently striking Lonca. As Steve caught up to them, he was faced with a sight that no K9 team would ever want to see – the man was hitting Lonca with a large machete.
Lonca was struck many times in the head, neck and body, but despite his injuries, he remained focused and on-task. In the ensuing struggle, Lonca positioned himself between the suspect and the officers, preventing anyone from being harmed. At the same time, Steve continued yelling at the man, ordering him to give up and drop the machete. Lonca and Steve’s joint effort finally convinced the suspect to surrender. He dropped the machete and was successfully taken into custody.
Displaying focus beyond his years, Lonca refused to rest until he knew his job was done. Blood streaming from his mouth, he led Steve back to the rear of the premises where a loud commotion was taking place. There, they encountered a second suspect, a female, who had fled the building and was struggling with the ETF officers. Lonca began to bark at the suspect, deterring her from running and contributed to her eventual surrender. With the situation under control, Steve rushed Lonca to the emergency veterinary hospital to tend to his injuries. Lonca received five stitches to his face and two staples to his front left paw. Lonca’s bravery and determination, even in the face of danger, contributed to the safe resolution of the situation for officers and suspects alike.
The suspect who attacked Lonca is the first in Canada to be charged under Quanto’s Law, which came into effect in July 2015.This new legislation serves to better protect law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals and ensure that offenders who harm those animals are held fully accountable. Quanto’s Law was named after the Edmonton police dog that was stabbed to death while chasing down a suspect in a parking lot. Quanto was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in 2014.
Rex, a loyal and protective Alaskan Malamute German Shephard cross, joined the Hawman family as a puppy when he was just eight-months old. Mitch and his wife Santana rescued him from a local shelter. Eight years later this devoted and caring pup would return the favour as rescuer for the family.
It was December 2015, the Hawman family was preparing for the holidays. Noreen Lucas, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta travelled to Aberdeen, Saskatchewan to celebrate the holidays with her son Mitch Hawman, his wife Santana and their three children. Over the course of her stay, Noreen came down with pneumonia and on Christmas Eve, she decided to stay home and rest up while Mitch, his wife and children drove into Saskatoon for a holiday dinner with extended family. To help ensure she felt better and rested for Christmas Day, Noreen took a sleeping pill and subsequently fell asleep on the couch. The pill she took was quite strong and Noreen was in a heavy sleep when she awoke briefly to hear Rex barking. She found this very odd as Rex seldom barks, but because she was so drowsy, she brushed him off and quickly fell back to sleep. Noreen was in such a deep sleep, she did not wake up to the home’s two smoke and carbon monoxide detector alarms. Determined to wake Noreen up, Rex continued to bark and nudge her – tugging at her pant leg, and even trying to pull her off the couch. In a desperate effort to save her, Rex eventually managed to gather enough strength to latch on to Noreen’s leg, pull her off the couch and drag her across the room towards the front door, before she finally woke up. Noreen opened her eyes and to her shock, she saw intense bright flames and smoke quickly spreading down the hallway in front of her. The house was on fire. As quickly as she could, Noreen got to her feet, grabbed what she could and with Rex’s help was able to escape the burning home.
Mitch and his family were already heading back to Aberdeen from dinner, when he received a frantic phone call from Noreen alerting him to the fire, and telling him she was safe thanks to Rex. 911 was called but by the time fire fighters arrived there was nothing that could be done to stop the fire. It had completely engulfed the house. Today Noreen feels completely indebted to Rex for her life – if it wasn’t for him, this grandmother would not have woken in time that fateful Christmas Eve.
Port Alberni, BC
Purina Better Together Award – Shadow is Kayla Aolick’s seizure response dog. Kayla suffers from epilepsy (due to a cancerous brain tumor) and she was advised to get a seizure response dog to help manage her episodes. Kayla was matched with Shadow three and a half years ago through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides and this new relationship has completely changed her life. Shadow is truly her best friend and loyal companion. Kayla believes Shadow came into her life at a time when she needed him most, and since then, Kayla has gained her independence back. Shadow has helped Kayla overcome obstacles and take on new challenges that she never thought she could. Overall, Kayla is grateful to Shadow for always being there for her as her “guardian angel” – protecting and watching over her as well as giving her family peace of mind that Kayla is always in good hands (or “paws”).
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.