victoria_cross george cross scan0004

b. 13/11/2001 ? d. 05/11/2014 ?


DATE OF PDSA GOLD MEDAL ACTION: 18/05/2003 Heslington, Yorkshire.


Orca was born on 13 November 2001, and was partnered with his disabled handler, Cheryl Alexander (née Smith) on 28 March 2003. He is a large dog weighing approximately 36 kg. Cheryl is a wheelchair user who suffers from the disabling condition Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy syndrome, a neurological condition that effectively prevents her from walking unaided.


On 18 May 2003, after they had been partnered for two months and Orca was 17 months old and only just out of training, Cheryl's powered wheelchair struck an obstruction on a country footpath near Heslington, pitching her some 12 – 20 feet (3 – 5 metres) down an embankment into a drainage ditch. The lower part of the ditch was water-filled to between a foot and waist level, and Cheryl became trapped in the water with the full weight of the 300 lb wheelchair pinning her across her legs. By chance, it had landed in a manner that did not crush her, however it held her trapped in the water, with her head facing downwards and her legs pressed into the thick mud at the bottom.


Orca sought to descend to help her, but after 5 minutes was finally persuaded to leave and seek help. It began to rain very heavily, a risk given that Cheryl was in a drainage ditch. A long time later he returned to Cheryl, but he was still alone.


It later transpired that he had found a passer-by, but the person approached had not realised Orca was an assistance dog seeking help in an emergency, and had tried to lead the dog home by his collar, to report him as a stray. Assistance dogs are trained to follow humans, and Orca had evidently reached the exceptional understanding that this person was not going to follow him or provide help, and that this was accordingly an occasion to break the rule. Orca had had to pull out of his collar and avoid being led, to do this - an act which goes against all normal assistance dog training.


Having checked on Cheryl, Orca left her to search for help a second time.


By this time it was "pouring with rain" and the weather had deteriorated to the point of hail, placing her at risk of drowning or hypothermia (death from exposure and cold). It took Orca around two more hours, and much perseverance, to find help, and considerable initiative to persuade the man to follow him for the entire mile-long walk back to the ditch. The person he found was a passing jogger, one of Cheryl's neighbours, until then unknown to her. Cheryl was already suffering hypothermia and drifting in and out of consciousness, when they finally arrived.


Cheryl was rescued and treated in hospital for hypothermia. The rescue services considered that Orca's "remarkable skills and unstinting devotion" had without question saved her life. The ditch was remote, the weather very bad - both cold and raining - and the path not commonly walked.


In 2006 he was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal, the highest award for a non-military dog and the animal equivalent of the George Cross. Orca retired on 12 November 2013, the day before his twelfth birthday. Orca died on 5 November 2014, 8 days before his thirteenth birthday.




For saving the life of his owner, Cheryl Alexander, through exceptional devotion to duty.