Animals have the power to continuously amaze us, particularly when it comes to their unique means of communication with humans through various signals and behaviors. Animals are often capable of understanding us and, incredibly, many can instinctually alert their humans to impending danger. Time and time again, this proves their deep intelligence, loyalty and connection to those they love. This week, Purina is marking the 50th anniversary of its renowned Purina Animal Hall of Fame program by inducting four new heroic hounds who have exemplified these extraordinary qualities. Each of these remarkable dogs has an astonishing story from the day they saved a life.
“Every year we receive countless nominations from Canadians coast-to-coast, sharing the extraordinary stories of animals who have proven to be devoted companions, and who have demonstrated unquestionable intelligence and perseverance to save a life,” said Melissa Eckersley, Purina Animal Hall of Fame ambassador. “Although each and every nomination we receive is truly heartwarming, the four dogs we are inducting for our 50th year really did go above and beyond.”
The 2018 Purina Animal Hall of Fame inductees—Sabrina, Arik, Ruth and Lady—were honored on May 14 at a prestigious red carpet awards ceremony, held at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. In advance of the event, each inductee was surprised in their hometown with the news that they had been selected to receive their medal of honor and a year supply of Purina dog food.
“To celebrate our landmark golden anniversary and pay tribute to all of the remarkable animals who have been inducted over the last 50 years, the ceremony was held at a new venue in the heart of downtown Toronto, with this year’s honorees plus former inductee families in attendance,” Eckersley said. “Every year we are inspired by the amazing actions these animals take! Their sheer will, determination and natural instinct to help and rescue others, is truly astounding.”
Senior scientist in the Behaviour Group at Purina, Ragen T.S. McGowan, believes dogs’ loyalty to humans, combined with their extensive communication skills and deep empathy, can make them excellent problem solvers in times of need and with those they are closely bonded to.
“Mounting research in the area of canine cognition has shown that dogs are highly skilled at communicating with humans, learning from their companions and understanding us—perhaps even better than we understand ourselves,” McGowan said. “Countless studies support the notion that dogs pay very close attention to the humans in their lives, attend to changes in human attention states, and take the perspective of humans into account in order to adjust their own behavior.”
The Purina Animal Hall of Fame is the longest running Canadian pet-recognition program in history, celebrating outstanding acts of animal heroism since 1968. To date, 179 remarkable animals have been inducted into the program, including 151 dogs, 27 cats and a horse. The four dogs joining the ranks in 2018 were rewarded due to their incredible acts of perseverance, intuition and love, which ultimately saved lives.
The 2018 Purina Animal Hall of Fame Inductees:
Ruth and Lady (2-year-old Akbash/yellow Labrador/Border collie cross and 7-year-old yellow Labrador/Border collie cross from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia)
It was a chilly afternoon in early April 2017 when Matthew Smith hit the road with his dogs, Ruth and Lady, to run a few errands in Kelowna, a town located 45 kilometers from his home. At around 8 p.m., Smith decided to drive back home. He was three kilometers from his house when he lost control of his vehicle while navigating a very steep road and crashed—falling down an embankment. Smith miraculously survived this fall but was severely injured. Although he managed to get himself, Ruth and Lady out of the truck, the severity of Smith’s traumatic injuries, which included head trauma, a lacerated liver and multiple broken ribs, rendered him incapable of getting help, and he collapsed. The temperature soon dropped to zero degrees, and recognizing the seriousness of Smith’s situation, Ruth and Lady lay on either side of him, hoping to keep him warm and comforted in the freezing conditions. Hours later, a homeowner living nearby returned from work to find Ruth and Lady barking on his driveway, signaling him to follow them. The gentleman followed the dogs and discovered Smith in critical condition, lying bleeding on the ground. He immediately called 911 and even after the emergency services arrived, Ruth and Lady refused to leave Smith’s side, showcasing their loyalty and devotion to protect him. Smith is currently in the process of recovering from the terrible accident and thanks Ruth and Lady for saving his life. Without their quick-thinking, loyalty and exceptional communication skills, Smith knows he would not have lived on to share his story.
“Without Ruth and Lady, my husband, Matt, wouldn’t have survived the night of the accident,” said Lara Smith, Ruth and Lady’s owner. “They truly are incredible—and because of them, we’re still a family with an even more of an unbreakable bond than ever before.”
Sabrina (12-year-old whippet from Saint-Laurent, Quebec)
It was 2 a.m. one dark September morning, when Adele Schwartz awoke to use the bathroom. She unfortunately took a wrong turn and tumbled down the basement stairs, hitting her head and instantly falling unconscious. Being a deep sleeper, Adele’s husband, Bill, didn’t hear a thing until Sabrina woke him by causing a commotion, nudging him repeatedly and pulling the comforter off their bed. Typically a calm and quiet dog, Bill was alarmed by Sabrina’s uncharacteristic behavior and, after realizing Adele was no longer lying beside him, got out of bed to investigate what had happened. Sabrina led Bill to find Adele’s motionless body at the bottom of the stairs. Incredibly frightened and worried, Bill immediately called an ambulance. Due to the fall, Adele had a fractured vertebra in her neck, a compression fracture in her back and her head had split open, causing a severe concussion that left her unconscious for three days. Adele stayed 10 more days in the hospital and several more months recovering. Today, Adele says she owes her life to Sabrina. Had Sabrina not acted so quickly, Adele likely wouldn’t have survived the fall or suffered permanent brain damage.
Arik (8-year-old German Shepherd from Baddeck, Nova Scotia)
On March 3, 2017, Lloyd Stone, a very active 90 year old, was out cross-country skiing, a regular leisure activity he enjoyed. Suddenly, he hit some ice and fell on his side, breaking his hip and leaving him in excruciating pain. The intensity of the pain made it impossible for Stone to reach the nearby highway, and starting to lose hope, he dipped in and out of consciousness. Three hours later, at 8 p.m., it was getting dark when Lloyd’s neighbor Calvin Kuchta was driving by and recognized his car on the side of the road. He had seen it earlier while going to the gym, and thinking it was a little out of character for Lloyd to be out for so long and so late, Kuchta headed home to collect his dog Arik to help him investigate. Arik was an accomplished former police dog, so Kuchta knew he needed Arik in order to be able to successfully find Lloyd. Unable to use Arik’s leash, Kuchta creatively fastened a skipping rope around Arik’s neck to help him track Lloyd’s scent in the woods and returned to the area. As the duo searched deeper into the bush, they finally heard a man’s voice calling for help, triggering Arik into action. Arik broke his skipping-rope-fashioned leash and bounded into the woods where he found Lloyd lying on the snow-covered ground. Kuchta called 911 immediately and Lloyd was taken to a nearby hospital. Had Arik not been there to help locate him so quickly, Lloyd would have likely suffered from severe hypothermia and potentially frozen to death.
Heroic stories like the ones shared through the Purina Animal Hall of Fame demonstrate the close-knit bond that exists between people and pets and how animals not only save lives, but can also make a difference in our lives every day. In addition to the 2018 official inductees, Purina made two special honorable mentions at the ceremony.
The first was Koby, a 5-year-old German shepherd, Border collie and husky mix from Toronto and his owner, Emily Sweet. After enduring bullying, severe depression and anxiety during her high school years, Sweet rescued Koby, trained him to be her service dog and petitioned to have him join her at school. After much campaigning, Koby was the first self-trained service dog in history to be allowed into a Canadian school and now this program is available to millions of students across the country; previously students were required to go through an official organization, where waitlists were often years long with fees up to $20,000. Koby’s support has positively changed Sweet’s outlook on life, helping her graduate from school, enroll in university and go on to publicly speak about her experiences. Purina understands the impact that pets can have on mental health and is proud to support the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)’s work around the bond between people and animals, including research and pet therapy.
The second honorable mention paid tribute to Smiley, a beloved blind therapy dog and his owner Joanne George. Born without eyes, Smiley spent his first two years in a puppy mill before being rescued and adopted by Joanne. With more than 200,000 Instagram followers, Smiley, who passed away last year at the age of 16, became famous for his infectious smile and ability to help brighten the lives of others. As a certified child therapy dog, Smiley comforted countless hospital patients, children with autism, and those living in nursing homes alike.