Purina presented Sako’s owners on Monday with a medal during a ceremony in Toronto. Three other dogs were also honored: one that pulled his owner from ice, one that alerted his owner to a man having a heart attack and another canine, which is a diabetic alert dog. Unfortunately, Sako was not present for the event, according to news reports.
On June 10, 2014, 16-year-old Joseph Phillips-Garcia was on a road trip with his aunt, cousin and a friend. His family had been picking potatoes near Botanie Lake and were returning home to Kanaka Bar, British Columbia. Joseph said he was tired from the trip and he soon fell asleep on the ride back, with Sako by his side. The next thing he knew, their vehicle was rolling down an embankment into the woods.
“I could feel the truck going over; I didn’t really know what was going on,” Joseph said in a video from Purina. “It went black after that.”
Joseph and Sako were thrown from the vehicle. When Joseph woke up, he said, he couldn’t move. He had broken his leg and collar bone.
“I just cuddled up and covered myself with some rocks and fell asleep,” he said. “Sako laid on top of me, too. Kept me pretty warm.”
Joseph and Sako were the only ones who survived — and Joseph said he owes his life to his dog. For 40 hours, Sako stayed by his side.
“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,” Purina said in a statement. “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.”
At one point, Joseph said, he heard the wild animals. So did Sako.
“He got up as soon as he realized their scent was coming closer and closer,” Joseph said in the video. “You could hear them just fighting and the bushes ruffling around.
“He came back. He only had a bite mark on his neck. That was it.”
After two days of searching, Joseph’s cousin found him in the woods.
Such stories of survival fill Purina’s Animal Hall of Fame. The first animals inducted in 1968 were a Chihuahua named Bambi that woke up her family during a house fire; Tippy, a pup that pulled an 8-year-old from an icy Niagara River; and a black Labrador retriever called Pat that towed his owner — who was adrift in a boat — back to shore.
The next year, Purina recognized its first feline, a Siamese cat named Jiggs, which woke up its family on Christmas morning when their house caught fire. Since then, 26 other cats have joined the Hall of Fame.
In 1978, Purina honored its first and only horse. Indian Red, a Morgan-Quarter horse, had alerted humans that a 77-year-old woman had fallen in a snow-covered ditch, according to Purina.
Like many other owners, Joseph Phillips-Garcia says Sako saved his life.
“I don’t really understand my part of surviving,” he said, “but a part of it was Sako.”
More from Morning Mix: