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Hero dog rescues resilient man; gratitude abounds

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance
Advance Photo Courtesy of Taber Police Service Facebook. HEROES: On April 12, 2024, Alan, along with his Akitas Hero and Tora, stopped by the police station to let TPS members know they were all doing well.

By Cal Braid
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Who would ever expect a quiet evening walk with the dog to become a life or death struggle? Not you and not I, but that’s exactly what unfolded for a Taber man a couple of weeks ago. He literally got stuck in a sucking mud pit overnight and couldn’t escape until his dog went off in search of help. Alan Kornago was out with his North American Akita named Hero when it all went wrong. And yes, that’s right: Hero. Savior dog. What else would he be named? Apparently, Hero is roughly 90 pounds of raw power, 100 per cent devoted to his master, and more than capable of owning his name.

“We were just going out for one of our evening walks,” Kornago recounted. “I had a bad work injury to my left leg in the Yukon, and I have a hard time articulating my left foot. I guess as we were walking through the willows out there, my left foot got caught and I just fell forward into the mud.”

The fall ‘out there’ was behind the sugar factory near Taber Lake. To boot, on Dec. 24 he dislocated his right arm, so he fell and, “I just couldn’t get myself out of the mud. And the more I struggled the worse it got. I started looking around and I knew there was a poplar tree behind me. I figured if I could get to the poplar tree I could get out. I couldn’t even shimmy or crawl my way to that poplar tree. I just kept getting stuck in the mud. So I figured, well I’m not going anywhere so I just started to lay back and relax and maybe wait for somebody to come along.”

Time passed and no one came. “I started hollering, and whenever I started hollering for somebody, the coyotes would start to howl. So, one time they started to howl and I heard rustling in the willows behind me. When I looked, my dog was gone. A couple of minutes later I heard coyotes yelping. About five minutes later I heard the rustling again and I looked and it was Hero, lying down.”

More time passed and still no one came. Seemingly endless, lonesome hours went by. Night fell. He’s not quite sure of the timeline, but knows that he was there through at least one full night. “It must have been the evening of the second day and I knew right then and there that if I didn’t get help by the morning, I was dead.”

“I was worried about Hero getting hypothermic because he was lying in the mud as well. So I finally said, ‘Hero, you have to go and get daddy help or daddy’s going to be dead in the morning. And he did what I told him to do. He went and got help.” With his master stuck in the mire, the situation was dire, but Hero set out to live up to his name.

“It just so happened that enough people around the area had seen me walking the dogs. Hero ran into this one gentleman whose dog was running loose and unfortunately Hero and his dog got into a confrontation.” It’s here that the story gets muddy, so we contacted police Chief Graham Abela of the Taber Police Service and he referred us to this TPS statement: “On March 28, 2024, at approximately 6:50 a.m., Taber Police received a complaint about a dog at large, with potential injuries, on the north side of the Sugar Factory property. Police attended the area but were unable to locate the dog. A few hours later, Taber Police received a complaint that a male and his dog had been bitten by a large dog, on the north side of the Sugar Factory property. When members attended the area, a large Akita dog was observed laying on a berm.

As members approached, they heard cries for help. A 61-year-old male, from Taber, was located near the dog, hidden behind tall grasses. The male was stuck in a muddy ditch and advised he had been stuck there for two days.”

Kornago tells it this way: “The bylaw officer put a post out, and people started saying, ‘This is weird. Alan’s never anywhere without his dogs.’ So the officer started following Hero, and luckily enough he had his window down. I started hollering, and he heard me. I heard him ask, ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ I said, ‘Just keep following my voice.’”

The officer told Kornago, “If you weren’t hollering I never would have found you,” and then, “If you weren’t conscious, we never would have got to you, because he (Hero) was defending you right to the bitter end. He wasn’t letting us near you until you started telling him it was okay.” The officer called an ambulance and it arrived shortly thereafter.

Kornago was dangerously cold upon discovery. “When they finally got to me, my core body temperature was only 30 degrees,” he said. A healthy human body temperature hovers around 37 degrees celsius, and hypothermia sets in once it dips below 35 degrees. Once the paramedics got the man into the ambulance, Hero calmed right down. Kornago said, “He knew I was going to be taken care of.”

Kornago said his dog was “pretty beat up” from the conditions and his scuffles, and was taken to a vet to get his wounds patched. Kornago went to the hospital and stayed there. “My biggest problem is that I was in such a hypothermic state that I suffered quite a bit of kidney damage. It took a long time but they finally healed to where I was able to come home,” he said. “I was there for a week. They found me on Thursday and let me come home the following Friday.”

Though he lost track of time during the ordeal, our best estimate (with his help) is that he went missing on March 26 or 27 and was rescued on March 28. One weather network’s data for the day of the rescue lists the Taber weather as between minus one and plus two degrees with overcast skies and ice fog.

“If it wasn’t for Hero, we wouldn’t be talking,” Kornago told us during an April 11 conversation. His mood seemed good and he chuckled occasionally, but the gravity of the situation was still fresh.

He was complimentary about the hospital staff, medics, bylaw officers and the vet’s office in Coaldale where Hero was first taken after the ordeal, but he was especially effusive in his praise of Lost Paws, a Taber dog shelter where Hero was taken after getting medical treatment. He called them a high-value service to the community. “You should go down there and see what they do for the community and how they take care of lost dogs. They’re wonderful people. A lot of them are volunteers.”

He said the shelter sometimes finds itself short of salmon-based high-quality dog food and that he plans to chip in by contributing bags of it when he can. Lost Paws started a GoFundMe page that covered all of Hero’s vet bills from the Coaldale clinic while Kornago was in the hospital.

“How can you not be proud of the community that you’re in?” he said. “I can’t express the gratitude that I have for everything they did for me. It’s unfortunate with the way things are nowadays. But it really makes you appreciate that there still is that possibility out there for a neighbour to help a neighbour. It’s still out there. It makes me feel very special to be a part of this community.”

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