Illustrations by Josie Portillo
These pooches, all Purina Animal Hall of Fame inductees, showed amazing loyalty and courage in the face of potential tragedy.
Late one evening, Matthew Church returned from a bike ride complaining to his wife, Patricia, of pain in his shoulder and elbow. She gave him a couple of Aspirin, and he went upstairs to watch TV while Patricia read by the fireplace downstairs, the family's labradoodle, Zola, at her feet. Moments later, Patricia heard a thud from upstairs. She would have brushed off the noise, but Zola began to bark and growl at Patricia. Confused by Zola's behaviour, Patricia followed the dog upstairs, where Matthew was lying facedown without vital signs. He'd gone into cardiac arrest, but because of Zola's protective instincts, the ambulance arrived in time to restart his heart and save his life.
Raya, a five-year-old black Labrador retriever–Norwegian elkhound mix, loves elk hunting with her owner, Brent Cote, and his mother, Trudy. On a warm fall day in 2015, one such outing turned out to be much more exciting than usual. They'd been hiking for several hours when dusk fell and they began making their way back to their truck, walking along the edge of the forest. Out of nowhere, a bear burst out of the brush and charged toward the family in an effort to protect her cub. In an instant, Raya leaped in front of Brent and Trudy, barking and growling at the bear. After three attempts at charging, the mom and her cub were forced to retreat. Because of Raya's bravery, the trio was able to escape without injury.
Port Alberni, B.C., resident Kayla Aolick credits her golden retriever, Shadow, with helping restore her independence. Kayla has epilepsy, the aftereffect of a cancerous brain tumour that was removed when she was 11, and her episodes were once so bad that she couldn't go anywhere alone. But since the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides matched her with the seizure-detection dog four years ago, things have been very different. Shadow warns Kayla when a seizure is coming on—and he may be the reason she now experiences fewer episodes. With Shadow around, she and her family don't stress out as much about what will happen if a seizure strikes; they know he'll alert Kayla, get her mom or even push her medical-alert button, if necessary. From taking cooking classes to running errands solo, Kayla can finally live a more independent life.
Toronto Police Service Canine Unit Const. Steve Balice rarely goes anywhere without his police dog, Lonca. One November evening, the duo was stationed at the back entrance of a residential address, while the rest of the Emergency Task Force entered through the front door. Const. Balice saw an armed man running from the building, seemingly headed toward the officers out front, so he shouted numerous warnings before finally releasing Lonca to bring the suspect down. The man proceeded to strike Lonca in the face with a machete—but he didn't let go until the suspect finally surrendered. Though bleeding, Lonca assisted in the capture of a second suspect before being rushed to the veterinary hospital, where he received five stitches on his face and two staples in his paw. The suspect who attacked Lonca was the first in Canada to be charged under Quanto's Law, a piece of legislation enacted in 2015 to protect law-enforcement animals, military animals and service animals.
The Purina Animal Hall of Fame is an annual ceremony that recognizes heroic animals from across Canada—to the tune of 172 inductees in its 48 years. The vast majority are dogs, but there have also been feline inductees—and even a horse! This year, in addition to these four brave dogs, Rex, a Saskatoon-area pooch who saved a family member from a house fire, was honoured. Read his heartwarming tale here: How one family's rescue dog turned out to be a hero.