Alberta dog honoured as hero after rescuing owner from Arizona desert
'It's such an honour. We feel very, very grateful,' Tracy Matkea says
Thrown from the saddle and dragged through the dust, the woman was bleeding, bruised and moments from death in the Arizona desert.
But, just as she slipped out of consciousness, her dog Becky Jo came to the rescue.
The scene, seemingly ripped from the script of an old western movie, is the real-life tale of Alberta's Tracy Matkea.
A year since Matkea's near-death experience, her canine rescuer is being honoured for her heroism.
The Australian shepherd-border collie mix has been inducted into the 2017 Purina Animal Hall of Fame, which honours Canadian pets for outstanding acts of animal courage and heroism.
The affable mutt was one of three dogs named to the honour Tuesday. She received $5,000, a year's supply of pet food and a shiny gold medal.
"We've always loved our dogs and I always knew she was an intelligent dog but I had no idea she was that smart," Matkea said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"It's such an honour. We feel very, very grateful."
Matkea is from Calahoo, northwest of Edmonton. The retired teacher and rodeo-circuit veteran spends her winters in Wickenburg, Ariz., where she and her husband Butch care for a small stable of horses.
On the morning on Jan 10, 2016, Matkea saddled up for a ride along the dry river bed that snakes around their ranch property.
As always, Becky Jo bounded alongside her.
Matkea was about 460 metres from home when her horse spooked and reared back violently, without warning.
The veteran equestrian was knocked unconscious and became entangled in the reins.
Helpless to free herself from the terrified filly, Matkea was dragged for more than a kilometre across the rugged terrain.
Her skull was fractured. Her scalp was pulled back, down to the bone.
'She literally saved my life'
Eventually, her riderless horse returned home, setting off alarm bells for Matkea's husband.
But he was unable to find his injured wife until a yelping Becky Jo came running home,
The dog circled the driveway, barking repeatedly to warn him that something was terribly wrong.
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In a panic, Butch hopped onto an ATV and followed Becky Jo for almost five kilometres to find Tracy lying motionless, sprawled across some large rocks.
Matkea was airlifted to a hospital in Phoenix where she was treated for severe facial and scalp lacerations, a broken facial bone, a major concussion and a severed artery in her head.
'Words can't explain it'
The doctors told her she had been minutes away from bleeding to death.
"I was bleeding profusely. I was conscious at that time, but incoherent," said Matkea. "Five or 10 more minutes bleeding out there and that would have been it. I wouldn't have been able to lose any more blood.
"She literally saved my life."
More than a year after his wife was injured, Butch Matkea still finds it hard to talk about.