Coco

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.

Zola

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”.

 

Raya

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.

Lonca

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

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.

Shadow

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

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.

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.

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.