05/04/2015 11:14 EDT | Updated 05/04/2016 05:12 EDT

Four dogs inducted into Purina Animal Hall of Fame for heroism

TORONTO - As Derik Hodgson puts it, Badger the Lab-Rottweiler mix "was one rowdy puppy."

He chewed up Hodgson's wood dining room table, his leather jacket and a seatbelt in his truck — to the point that it snapped in half.

But he redeemed himself and then some in February, when he pulled Hodgson some 400 metres to safety when the owner broke his leg on a frozen lake.

"I didn't think I was going to make it," said Hodgson after 11-year-old Badger was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame on Monday.

A total of four dogs were recognized with medals and portraits at the 47th annual event in Toronto.

Sako, a four-year-old King Shepherd from Kanaka Bar, B.C., was awarded for staying by 16-year-old Joseph Phillips-Garcia for more than 40 hours after their vehicle crashed down a steep embankment last June.

Bella, an Anatolian Shepherd from Windsor, Ont., got the honour for alerting owner Rob Sheardown to a man who was having a heart attack in their apartment's lobby in November 2014.

And Nettle, a two-year-old Yellow Labrador from Cambridge, Ont., was recognized for his ongoing work as a Diabetic Alert Dog for 12-year-old twin daughters in the Bordman family.

"She saves our lives almost every day," said Jade Bordman. "She is one of the first Diabetic Alert Dogs in Canada."

Hodgson said he found Badger abandoned as a puppy in the woods of western Quebec.

"I thought he was a baby bear and I was looking around for the mom and said, 'Holy crap, what have we just walked into here?'

"Then this bronze-black creature rolled over onto his back and wanted his tummy scratched and I said, 'I think we've got a dog.'"

Their harrowing day began when Hodgson went on the frozen lake in -20 C weather with just a light jacket on to photograph eagles. Hodgson lives alone and didn't tell anyone he was going; he didn't have a cellphone on him.

When he fell hard on the frozen lake, shattering his leg in two places and rupturing a tendon, he remembered his days skijoring with Badger (a sport where a dog or horse pulls a person on skis).

"I grabbed his collar, under his throat, and shouted, 'Mush, Badger, mush,'" recalled Hodgson. "He began to pull, I clawed with my one good leg. We were like a toboggan going uphill."

The story of Sako and Phillips-Garcia was a tragic one.

They were the only survivors in a fatal accident that threw them from their vehicle into the woods, leaving Phillips-Garcia with a broken femur and collarbone.

Sako laid close to him to keep him warm, brought him wood to make a fire, helped drag him to a nearby creek for some water and protected him from coyotes and other predatory animals.

"Sako basically saved my son's life," said Fawn Adolph, Phillips-Garcia's mother.

Comedy stars Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath hosted Monday's ceremony.

This year marks the launch of the Hall of Fame's Better Together Award, which will recognize a pet that makes an extraordinary difference in the life of his or her owner.

The new category will launch on May 11 and will allow pet owners to submit personal stories that will then be voted on by Canadians. A winner will be announced at next year's Purina Animal Hall of Fame ceremony.

A total of 168 animals — 140 dogs, 27 cats and a horse — have been inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, which honours pets and service animals.