Canines crowned for saving owner’s life, between Kelowna and Vernon

One-year-later Matthew Smith is still recovering, in Campbell River

Matthew Smith wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for his two dogs, Ruth and Lady.

The 42-year-old Westside resident was coming home from Kelowna one Sunday evening in April of 2017. He was three kilometres from his upper Killiney Beach house when he lost control of his vehicle while navigating a very steep road and crashed – falling down an embankment.

Matthew miraculously survived this fall but was severely injured. Although he managed to get himself, Ruth and Lady out of the truck, the severity of Matthew’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 Matthew’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, signalling him to follow them, which he did.

“The dogs came walking towards me with their tails between their legs and as soon as they moved, I saw Matt laying there on the ground,” said Eric Leighty, the nearby resident.

“The truck was black, you couldn’t see it.

“If the dogs weren’t there I don’t think anybody would have seen him until the next morning.”

Matthew isn’t sure what forced him off the road that day, perhaps a deer or bear.

“I was found outside my vehicle, laying on the ground, I’m not sure how I got there,” said Matthew, a custom cabinet maker for Phoenix Kitchenworks.

Seeing Matthew in critical condition, lying bleeding on the ground, Leighty immediately called 911 and even after the emergency services arrived, Ruth and Lady refused to leave Matthew’s side, showcasing their loyalty and devotion to protect him.

North Westside Fire Rescue’s Graeme Headley and Deborah Iglehart were among the first on the scene.

“We arrived upon a body,” said Iglehart.

“He was very hurt,” said Headley. “Lady didn’t want to leave his side, she just lay right beside him, I didn’t even try to move her.”

Matthew is 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, Matthew knows he would not have lived on to share his story.

“I am very grateful,” said Matthew. “I have a feeling they helped me, saved my life.”

Wife Lara Smith, who was working out of town at Campbell River, is especially thankful.

“You never expect a dog to save your loved one’s life,” said Lara, who wasn’t even home that night.

“I was working in Campbell River for BC Hydro, I would come home about twice a month. So no one would know that he was gone.”

Lara, 41, had talked to her husband earlier that day and knew he was going to Kelowna.

“He texted someone in West Kelowna around 7 p.m. so we think it was about 45 minutes after that he crashed.

“From the timeline, we think it was about three hours (before he was discovered).”

Now Matt is on the long road to recovery, a path that forced the couple to move to Campbell River (but they hope to one day return to the Okanagan).

“He was in a coma for about a month,” said Lara, adding that it took about six months before he could speak, during which time he was bounced between Kelowna and Vernon hospitals.

He suffers from the effects of a brain injury and is unable to walk, but is making progress.

Lara is just grateful for Ruth (two-year-old Akbash/yellow Labrador/border collie cross) and Ruth’s aunt Lady (seven-year-old yellow Labrador/border collie cross).

“Without Ruth and Lady, my husband Matt wouldn’t have survived the night of the accident,” said Lara. “They truly are incredible — and because of them, we’re still a family with an even more of an unbreakable bond than ever before.”

She is also grateful to the North Westside Fire Department, of which she is a former member.

The incident commander was able to get RCMP Lara’s number to alert her to the accident and they also let her know about the pups’ heroic efforts about a week after.

It was then that someone mentioned the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, which Lara thought was a great way to shed some light on a tough situation.

And recently the team contacted the Smiths to let them know that Ruth and Lady are two of four canines inducted into the 50th-anniversary hall of fame for their heroic efforts.

“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 honoured Monday 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 honour and a year supply of Purina dog food.

“Every year we are inspired by the amazing actions these animals take,” said Eckersley. “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 a dog’s 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,” said McGowan. “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 behaviour.”


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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