On a sunny day last June in the wilderness of British Columbia, 16-year-old Joseph Phillips-Garcia found himself in the dirt with a broken femur and a shattered collar bone. The teen was the sole survivor of a deadly car crash that killed his aunt, cousin, and a family friend. For the next 40 hours, Phillips-Garcia’s only companion was his four-year-old king shepherd named Sako, who warded off a pack of coyotes and other predators and kept the teen warm at night. In recognition of the canine’s heroism, Sako was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame on Monday, joining 140 other dogs, 27 cats, and a horse.
For the past 47 years, the Purina Animal Hall of Fame has recognized animals for extraordinary deeds.
“There is no question for Joseph of the crucial role Sako played in his ability to survive this painful, frightening and life-threatening experience. Not only did Sako’s protective and heroic actions help keep Joseph safe, it was also Sako’s devotion and unyielding companionship that gave him the hope and the courage to hold on until he was found,” stated Purina in a press release.
The accident occurred on June 10, 2014 about an hour away from Kanaka Bar in British Columbia. Phillips-Garcia and his cousin were headed to a family fishing trip near Botanie Lake, and he decided to take a nap in the back seat with Sako. The next thing he knew, he was flying through the air. The driver had lost control of the vehicle sometime in the evening and rolled down a steep embankment, throwing the teen and his dog clear of the car. The fall broke Phillips-Garcia’s femur and collar bone, but very likely saved his life. Yet it also stranded him in the middle of the woods, where bears and mountain lions have been known to roam.
“That area is subject to a number of predatory animals including large cats, bears, coyotes,” said Constable Kris Clark of Lake Country’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a video released by Purina. “Someone who was sustained serious injuries and was not mobile would not have the ability to protect themselves.”
Yet Sako, who was mostly unhurt, stayed at the teen’s side. In addition to keeping Phillips-Garcia warm, the dog also displayed an extraordinary understanding of his needs, including dragging the teen to a nearby creek for water and even retrieving wood so his owner could start a campfire with a lighter. Phillips-Garcia remembered a few occurrences in which Sako had to chase off predators, including at least one skirmish with what he assumed was a pack of coyotes.
“You could hear them just fighting and the bushes ruffling around,” the teen said in the video. “[Sako] came back. He only had a bite mark on his neck. That was it.”
On June 12, in the midst of an exhaustive search for survivors by both police and family members, Phillps-Garcia’s cousin found him in the woods. Now several months—and multiple surgeries—later, Phillps-Garcia is still recovering from his harrowing ordeal. Like many others in his family, the teen credits Sako with saving his life.
“I don’t really understand my part of surviving,” he admitted, “but a part of it was Sako.”
You can see an interview with the teen and family members below.