Animal Heroes 2007

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Have you ever wondered how you would react if faced with a situation where your actions could save the life of a human being?  Well, I recently attended the 39th annual Purina Animal Hall of Fame Award Ceremonies and I learned how the 2007 honourees - Echo, Mel-O, Jango and Ki - behaved in such circumstances. Each of them displayed courage, determination, bravery and ultra-intuitive life-saving skills.

During a canoe trip across Lake Huron in July 2006, Tish Smith and her loyal family dog, Echo, were caught in an intense summer storm. Their canoe capsized and somehow Tish and Echo survived for 12 hours in the very cold waters of the lake. Finally, from the air, the search and rescue team spotted Echo swimming around Tish's unconscious body. With no life jacket to help her stay afloat, Echo had never left Tish's side throughout the ordeal. Tish told me she talked to Echo until she lost consciousness and that she is certain that without the support of her animal companion and the role Echo played in their being spotted, she would not be alive today. The story is made even more amazing by the fact that when Tish and Echo were rescued, they had drifted within swimming distance of the shore. One would think a dog's natural instincts would take over and Echo would have headed for land. But no, Echo never left the side of her unconscious friend.

Jango is a Golden Retriever who lives with the Unger family of Trail, British Columbia. On January 22, 2006, Jango awakened her owner Darrell just past midnight. Their house was on fire and quickly filling with smoke. Darrell raced to his son Koby's room and found him unconscious. Fading in and out of consciousness himself, because of the dense smoke, Darrell, with Koby in his arms, was guided to the outside by Jango's continuous barking. Throughout her 10 years of life, Jango had been a loyal family pet, faithfully greeting customers at the family pet grooming business and volunteering as a therapy dog visiting the elderly in the town. However, she was made of the right stuff to be a true hero when the need arose.

Young Alex Rose of Morinville, Alberta explained to me that he chose his little black and white domestic short hair cat, Mel-O, from a group of others at the local Humane Society because she was just that - so mellow. Now grown up to adulthood, Mel-O has remained a very calm, relaxed kitty. However, in the evening of March 27, 2006 Mel-O acted in a very uncharacteristic way, displaying very un-typical behaviour. She climbed up a five foot ladder to the bunk bed where Alex slept and continued to pounce on nine year old Alex's chest determined to wake him. Alex, when aroused, woke his mother, explaining what had happened and they decided to check Alex's blood sugar levels. Alex has type 1 diabetes and although blood tests before he went to bed that night were normal, when they checked after being awakened by Mel-O, they were found to be dangerously low. Thanks to Mel-O's actions, Alex had been able to avoid going into diabetic shock.

Ki is a nine year old police service dog who works with OPP Constable Shawn Campbell. In early 2006 they were called to track a man missing in the Haliburton Highlands. The 54 year old man had become lost while doing a property search in the area. As hypothermia set in, he failed to stay put and began to wander trying to find his own way out of the woods. His sporadic footprints could not be traced by police and they had to rely on Ki to follow the man's scent. After a six hour, 10 kilometer trek, they finally found the man who had broken through an ice covered swamp in the forest. Ki's discipline, dedication and his amazing feat of endurance for a dog of his age saved a man's life that was in extreme jeopardy. Constable Campbell is very proud of his friend and working companion. Ki will leave the police service this year and settle in as retired animal hero and continuing companion for Campbell.

Congratulations to each of this year's Animal Heroes of Canada and to Nestle Purina for recognizing them.