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”).

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.

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.

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.

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”.