America’s animal lovers have spoken, and after more than half a million votes from across the country, 21 courageous canines are advancing to the semifinal rounds of the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Awards®, sponsored by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation and Zoetis, and broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel. The heroic hounds were chosen by the American public to advance to the semifinals from a field of 266 remarkable candidates. The public is now invited to visit www.HeroDogAwards.org between now and July 11 to vote once per day for their favorite in one of the seven Hero Dog categories. The seven finalists will be flown to Los Angeles to take part in the star-studded eighth annual Hero Dog Awards gala on September 29 at the Beverly Hilton, where one will be chosen as the 2018 American Hero Dog, the top honor a dog can receive. This must-watch event for animal lovers will be broadcast in the fall as a two-hour special on Hallmark Channel.
In both the semifinal and final rounds of the competition, the winners will be determined through a combination of votes by the public and a special celebrity judging panel. New judges for the 2018 Hero Dog Awards campaign represent a variety of celebrity dog lovers including: Miranda Lambert, Kristin Chenoweth, Carson Kressley, Carrie Ann Inaba, Erik Estrada, Jamie Chung, Michelle Beadle, Danielle Fishel, Mark Steines and Carlos and Alexa PenaVega. Returning judges include Lisa Vanderpump, Adrienne Maloof, Bailee Madison, Carolyn Hennesy, Ashlan and Philippe Cousteau, Laura Nativo, Lorenzo Borghese and 2011 Arson Hero Dog winner Jerry Means. The top dogs in each category will win $2,500 for their designated charity partner and the winning 2018 American Hero Dog’s charity partner will receive an additional $5,000 for a grand total of $7,500. Each charity partner is dedicated to advancing the role of dogs in our lives and, as with American Humane, focuses on the importance of the powerful connection between people and animals.
The seven categories for 2018 are: Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs, sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare (a U.S. business unit of Zoetis); Military Dogs, sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare; Therapy Dogs, sponsored by Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food, the official pet food of the 2018 Hero Dog Awards; Service Dogs, sponsored by Modern Dog magazine; Emerging Hero Dogs, a category that pays tribute to ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things; Search and Rescue Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.
Over the past seven years, Americans have cast millions of votes for more than a thousand dogs, all seeking the coveted title of American Hero Dog. The program reaches more than one billion people each year and draws the support and participation of top celebrity dog lovers from all over the world. Hosts, judges, award presenters, and entertainment acts have included Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Pauley Perrette, Katharine McPhee, Alison Sweeney, Bindi Irwin, Derek Hough, Betty White, Whoopi Goldberg, Denise Richards, Gary Sinise, Chelsea Handler, Martin Short, Jewel, Wilson Phillips, John Ondrasik, Naomi Judd, Lori Loughlin, Eric Stonestreet, Danica McKellar, and many, many more.
“For thousands of years, mankind has had a special relationship with dogs, and the American Humane Hero Dog Awards are our way of honoring the best of our best friends,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane president and CEO. “This unique awards show celebrates the unbreakable human-animal bond, which has been a core part of our organization’s mission since 1877.”
“The Hero Dog Awards recognize some of America’s bravest heroes on both ends of the leash,” said philanthropist and presenting sponsor Lois Pope. “From those who defend our country to those who help us heal, guide us, protect us, and help find the lost, every single contender exemplifies the courage and heroism we seek to spotlight in this campaign. Our goal is not only to honor these magnificent dogs but to inspire America to reflect on the outsized contributions that animals make in our lives each and every day.”
Key dates for the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Awards contest include:
- Second-round voting: May 16 – July 11
- Third-round voting: July 25 – September 5
- American Humane Hero Dog Awards event in Los Angeles – September 29
All voting rounds open and close at 12pm Pacific Time on the dates listed above.
Meet the 21 incredible Hero Dog Awards semifinalists!
Here are brief descriptions, written by the hero dogs’ owners/handlers:
Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs category (sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare)
- K-9 Flash (Detroit, MI) K-9 Flash was found in an animal shelter when she was only 9 months old. She was picked up on the streets of Everett, Washington, with no home, no name, and no family. We were starting a Narcotics K-9 course at the Washington State Patrol Academy in Sept of 2005, when we were evaluating dogs in shelters who possess a good hunt, air scent, retrieve, and prey drive. Flash excelled in all of those areas, so we took a chance on her and included her in the class just one day before she was to be euthanized. Once she had her chance, Flash excelled in Narcotics detection and graduated as the only dog to score 100 percent on her certification. She was assigned as the first Narcotics K-9 on Patrol at the Yakima Police Department while assisting two DEA Narcotics Task Force Teams, Regional SWAT Team, and the Patrol Division. K-9 Flash had over 3,000 deployments in her career with over 2,200 narcotic- related finds and seizures. When Flash retired in 2013, she was just getting started. Because of her fortitude and her will to be successful, she inspired her handler to start a national nonprofit to take care of retired K-9 heroes like her with medical assistance, food, and end-of-duty services. Most people don’t know that when K-9 heroes like Flash retire they lose all funding from the agencies they served. Therefore in 2016, K-9 Flash was the sole inspiration for the start of Project K-9 Hero. She now has her own children’s book and travels the nation reading it at schools and inspiring children.
- K9 Odin (Katy, TX) – Howdy! My name is Deputy Andrew Blauser and I work for the Waller County Sheriff’s Office in Texas. I would like to tell you about my partner K9 Odin. Odin is a 4-year-old German Shepherd. I received K9 Odin on a grant from the organization K9s4Cops in April of 2017. We completed our lengthy academy training in August of 2017. What I would like to share with you occurred on Thanksgiving Night of 2017. I am sitting at home with my nine months pregnant wife and my family, enjoying their company on Thanksgiving at our home in Katy, Texas. I see the horrible news that a Texas State Trooper named Damon Allen had been shot and killed along I-45 while working holiday traffic. The person who did this fled the scene in an unknown direction. Hours pass and suddenly I get a call from a coworker who tells me to come to work, that they had found Trooper Allen’s suspected murderer, that he had again attempted to take a deputy’s life, and fled into a wooded area. I quickly got ready, kissed my family goodbye, loaded up Odin and rushed to the scene. While I cannot discuss specifically what occurred at this time, the decision was made that because of the murder suspect’s actions, Odin would be utilized to capture the murder suspect. Odin performed perfectly and bravely captured the suspect so that no other police officers would be hurt that day, myself included. In fact, the next day my son was born. Odin made sure I survived to see my son born. K9 Odin is my Hero Dog and my best friend.
- Kano (Seward, KS) – Kano is a 1-year-old Red Nose Pit Bull. Kano is still very much a large puppy and belongs to me. Kano is the FIRST pit bull police K9 in the state of Kansas. Kano is a single-purpose detection K9. Kano is trained to locate marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. Kano is a rescue from Negras, Mexico. Kano was rescued by Animal Farm Foundation and Universal K9. Kano was named Kano based on a character from Mortal Kombat based on his facial markings. Kano and the dogs in the Universal K9 program were invited to the ICMA conference. ICMA is the largest annual event in the world for local government managers and staff. Leaders from all over the country were at this conference and could watch these dogs work. Since being on the street, Kano has assisted with three drug offenses, including approximately eight grams of methamphetamine, $7,500 worth of marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Kano has not only been helping get drugs off the street but also serving as a positive model for the pit bull breed walking through the school, and retirement home with me. Kano embodies the true meaning of “Street Dog to Police Dog” a phrase used by Universal K9 Director Brad Croft! These dogs are not only rescued from shelters but they rescue their handlers as well!!! Kano and the other dogs in the program will be on the cover of “K9 Cop” magazine.
Emerging Hero Dogs category
- Willow (Las Vegas, NV) – Willow is a survivor of the South Korean dog meat trade. His owners turned him in to the slaughterhouse because he was old. Neglected, with cut ears, matted hair, a mouth of bad teeth and an infected tongue, he was allowed to be rescued because he “didn’t offer much meat.” He was one of the lucky ones. Arriving in September of 2016, Willow is spreading awareness on social media and making public appearances to educate people on animal welfare topics (including the dog and cat meat trade) through non-traumatic and non-graphic ways, and presenting resources to help more of his four-legged friends. Willow travels internationally in foamboard form and poses with trade survivors. His campaign, “I Am Willow, I Am Not Food” raises flight funds for dogs. He is the mascot for a newly created Animal Rights Club at a local school, helping students advocate for change in the classroom and aiding their school in becoming the first vegan option cafeteria in the State. We are developing educational tools to use in an animal welfare speaking series for schools and conferences. He is also getting therapy dog certification to spread awareness to disabled children through animal-related books/reading programs. Willow is a voice and inspirational leader for millions of animals, not just those subjected to the dog and cat meat trade. People listen, learn and respond to Willow. He is a vehicle for raising awareness. Willow is an EMERGING HERO who will grow that status into something that makes a lifelong paw print in the animal welfare world.
- Josh (Sun Valley, CA) – Josh was born with a cleft palate and taken into the shelter to be euthanized at birth. He lay at the shelter, hungry and cold with his umbilical cord still attached. Two well-known rescue groups, Paw Works and Leave No Paws Behind, joined paws to save him. The call came in to me, asking if I would take him. I said yes. He arrived cold and stiff. I worked on him around the clock. After 48 hours, he started to fight and thrive. I started his own Facebook page for him, and he quickly became an internet sensation, proving to the world that birth defects don’t need to be a death sentence. Josh and I ended up landing the cover of Modern Dog magazine. It was then that I knew he had a purpose. He inspired me to start a non-profit, naming it Josh & His Critters. Josh is four years old. He saves the worst of the worst-off on death row, including animals with birth defects, terminal animals, and animals in critical need of emergency care, etc. Josh also saves cats, rats, turtles, birds, gophers, pigs, lambs, goats, and rabbits and we find them loving homes. Josh will save anything with a heartbeat. Josh continues to rehabilitate all creatures great and small. Josh’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. He’s made it into the local paper, and been in the news twice for his ongoing efforts here in Los Angeles, California. Josh will continue to educate the world that all animals deserve a second chance at life, no matter how young, how old, sick, or injured they are.
- Noah (Mineral Point, WI) – What would you do if you were a pup that was born without eyes and used a wheelchair because of handicapped back legs? You become the world’s most beloved anti-bullying dog, and ambassador for blind and handicapped animals! This is Noah, a pup that travels to schools with lessons about tolerance, acceptance, and disabilities. He is an outstanding visual for kids to see that it’s okay to be different, just like him! Known as “the anti-bullying dog,” Noah sends a strong message that it is never okay to pick on other people who are handicapped, disabled, or “different.” Rescued by Saving K9 Lives, given a Muffin’s Halo, and a donated wheel chair by Mango on a Mission, Noah has proven to the world that he can do anything a “normal” pup can do. When he’s not in the classroom, you can find Noah at nursing homes, freely giving his love to seniors. His innate ability to love makes him a favorite guest. He also enjoys skiing on the slopes of Wisconsin with custom-made skis to fit his wheelchair! Noah was a semi-finalist in the Hero Dog Awards in 2016. He’s been in People Magazine, and was recognized as Wisconsin’s Dog Hero in 2017 for the work he has already accomplished in his young life. To those who said he should be euthanized because of the seriousness of his handicaps, Noah can show you a thousand reasons why he was spared from certain death. Noah is a champion for the underdog, as he, himself, is an underdog. Roll on, little hero. Roll on in your wheelchair, that is!
Guide/Hearing Dogs category
- Frances (Staten Island, NY) – At the age of 32, I lost my eyesight from a rare complication after battling breast cancer. Over the next six months, I would have to relearn everything from crossing the street to sorting laundry. Then, the universe threw me the ultimate curveball – I found out I was pregnant! When people asked me how I planned on traveling with my baby, I responded, “I’m going to get a guide dog.” In September of 2016, Guiding Eyes for the Blind matched with me with Frances, a female yellow Labrador. Since then, “Franny” and I have become partners in both parenting and advocacy work for visually impaired parents. Now the mother of two daughters, I depend on Frances to help guide me to pre-school, doctor’s appointments and extracurricular activities. When “Franny” is not helping me meet the demands of motherhood, she accompanies me to help educate kids through our Visually Impaired Education Program (VIEP). Aimed at grades K-2, VIEP’s mission is to engage school-aged children through classroom interaction with the blind/visually impaired community; helping diminish stereotypes associated with blindness. Frances attends every presentation, a beautiful reminder about the important work of guide dogs. I believe Frances deserves to be the American Hero Guide Dog because her partnership allows me to be the woman I want to be. She helps me juggle all that comes with being a working mom while educating our community about living with vision loss.
- Xaverie (Berlin, NH) – Being born blind and autistic, I have always had difficulty communicating or being social with others. My pet dogs were my only interest. Through them, I developed a strong passion for dogs, who eventually became my best friends. Xaverie was brought into my life in August 2017. Simply by chance, one of my community associates had a family member who was a puppy raiser and referred me to apply for a guide dog. The thought of having a dog by my side when I did my community volunteering was exciting. Dogs were my passion. I currently volunteer in the community five days a week, participating in various social activities, and Xaverie is by my side every day. Since Xaverie came into my life, my communication and socialization skills with others greatly improved, often using Xaverie as a choice of topic in conversation. I am more confident in myself to approach new obstacles and travel independently with less fear. Xaverie has shown me the responsibilities in care and well-being of her that only I can provide gaining some more of my own independence and responsibilities. Once a week, we attend a daycare center where I read a short story book in Braille to the children. I also use this time to introduce Xaverie, along with education and an explanation of the importance of guide dogs and their purpose. The kids are very interested and understand the “no touch” rule of all service dogs. I can’t imagine my life without Xaverie by my side. She helped me expand my boundaries. Xaverie is my Hero Dog.
- Klinger (Folsom, CA) – As Klinger jockeyed for position with his twelve 5-week-old siblings in the whelping kennel at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, little did he know that at the same moment, his future human partner was in a Life-Flight helicopter after being struck by a car while riding his tandem bicycle. In the spirit of meeting a unique need, two years later, Klinger became the first-ever certified dual-purpose running guide dog in the USA. After Richard Hunter, USMC blind veteran, had recovered from his injuries, his entire family became hypervigilant about distracted drivers, knowing that Richard was still running solo with his limited vision. Klinger not only offered Richard a new sense of freedom and his family peace of mind, Klinger’s success paved the way for other guide dog teams to follow in his paw-steps. Though Klinger is limited to running six training miles in Richard’s neighborhood, he became Richard’s most frequent running guide, helping him train to become the second blind runner in the USA to complete a 100-mile run. Klinger’s friendly and gentle disposition has made him a wonderful ambassador to educate the public about guide dog etiquette. His welcoming eyes easily find those of a dog lover in a quick glance, making it challenging for people to ignore him. Klinger offers love, companionship, laughter and a sense of safety to Richard, and watches him intently while at home waiting for the opportunity to harness up and get to work.
Military Dogs category (sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare)
- Summer (Mount Airy, MD) – My canine partner’s name is Summer, a 7-year-old female Labrador and war dog. She was deployed with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan in March 2012. While deployed, she conducted routine patrols, searching and finding numerous weapon caches and IEDs, clearing routes, and getting caught in several fire fights. In 2014, Summer and I became a TSA K9 team for the Amtrak Police Department, Washington, D.C. Since partnering up, Summer and I are responsible for the safety and security of Amtrak passengers, personnel and infrastructure. Daily, we conduct tactical train rides from Washington, D.C. to New York City, perform sweeps and protection for VIP’s and foreign dignitaries, and provide mutual aid with surrounding police departments during bomb threats and VIP arrivals. We provided K9 sweeps for the 58th Presidential Inauguration Candlelight Dinner and Ball held at Union Station in Washington. We also provided coverage and security for Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City in 2015 due to his itinerary being near the railroad. Summer wears her Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Ribbon and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Ribbon on her vest while on duty, proudly showing she participated and served with the United States military. Together, we play a vital role in the war against terrorism every time I attach her leash and put on her vest. Thank you for your consideration for this prestigious award!
- MWD Jig M834 (Lambertville, MI) – On March 18, 2013, my husband and I opened our home to this four-legged Hero named MWD Jig M834, and since that time have been taught many lessons by this amazing boy. This story is a bit different because it’s not about what happened on the battlefield, but how Jig chooses to live his life. Jig served as an Improvised Detection Dog for the U.S. Marine Corps. We know very little of his background, but know he served overseas from 2008-2011. He was excellent at his job so the Corps kept him on to help “sell” their Improvised Detection Dog program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Jig’s military career ended with a diagnosis of oral melanoma. Upon his adoption, veterinarians said they could not give a time frame for his expected life span; it could be weeks, months or years. Jig had undergone chemo while at Lackland and would have to undergo five more rounds under our care. He has triumphed over that hurdle, only to be faced now with a devastating diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis polyneuropathy, a condition that will one day take his life. Emergency surgery was performed to permanently open his airway and allow him to breathe easier. A complication of that surgery has been bouts of aspirational pneumonia, which each time lands him in the critical care unit, fighting for his life. Now Jig fights a different battle….the battle against time. One day the complications will take him, but until then he takes on life like a hero, like a true warrior, and does it with no accolades, only grace. Semper Fi Jig!
- Sergeant Fieldy (McAllen, TX) – Sgt. Fieldy is an 11-year-old Black Lab with the heart and energy of a 3-year-old who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and retired in August 2014. I am his handler and I met him in South Carolina as part of a group of specialized units formed to combat the number-one threat in Afghanistan: Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). We were deployed to Afghanistan in February 2011. We both experienced first-hand the effects of IEDs when a vehicle struck a pressure plate during a patrol and injured the occupants. Knowing that we were both targets for insurgent observers, we worked tirelessly to detect explosives. He alerted me and found yet another IED, a 60-pound plastic barrel containing homemade explosives. During our deployment, Sgt. Fieldy found several more IEDs ad their components, which helped save countless lives during our tour. After his deployment, he was taken back for refitting and training, and I returned home. I later found out that Fieldy deployed two more times to Afghanistan and continued to find more IEDs and save many more lives. After serving four tours, on Aug. 7, 2014, with the help of American Humane, I was finally able to adopt him. Since then he has very much enjoyed his retirement. In Nov. 2014 he participated in the Veterans Day Parade in New York City. And in July 2016, he was honored with the K-9 Medal of Courage award on Capitol Hill, and has been recognized for his bravery and courageous sacrifice on several other occasions. He has made a life-changing impact on my life. He is my hero!
Search and Rescue Dogs category
- Ruby (East Greenwich, RI) – In October of 2017, a teenage boy went missing from his home in the town of Gloucester. After 36 hours and failed attempts to find him, the Gloucester Police Department requested the services of the Rhode Island State Police K-9 Division. K-9 Ruby and I answered the call and responded to the scene along with other K-9 teams. As part of normal protocol, I briefly interviewed the boy’s mother. During their conversation, it was revealed that the boy’s mother had volunteered her services working with Ruby six years ago at the RISPCA and fostered her each time she was returned. After hours of searching, K-9 Ruby and I were ultimately successful in finding the missing teenager, but unfortunately, he was found in grave medical condition. The state police and EMS services removed the boy from the scene and transported him to a local hospital where he made a full recovery. If it were not for the effort of the state police and especially K-9 Ruby, that young boy’s life may have been lost. You can think what you may, but I believe that was Ruby’s way of saying thank you to the boy’s mother for taking care of her during her rough beginning. Ruby was given a chance at life and ended up saving a life. With the efforts of two organizations (RISP and RISPCA) and a handful of amazing and dedicated people, great things can happen. Ruby will also be featured in a soon-to-be-released award-winning film, which documents her rescue, her rigorous training to become a certified Search & Rescue K9, and accompanies her on her first official searches with her handler, Daniel O’Neil.
- Piglet (Lancaster, CA) – “Piglet” is a 7-year-old Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, rigorously trained and certified to find answers for families on land and in water. Piglet and handler Lori Wells are dedicated volunteers, serving many communities. They’re frequently called upon to assist law enforcement in their search for the missing. Lori and Piglet commit hundreds of hours annually to training and testing. This ensures they’re always ready when called to search. Piglet’s built a solid reputation with law enforcement throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, not only for her unswerving work ethic and talented nose, but also for her infectious “smile.” She always makes friends at events and fundraisers. Everyone wants to “Kiss the Pig.” But it’s out in the field where she’s most effective, an unparalleled search resource and comfort to the families she’s helping. Piglet was called to locate a drowning victim. Searchers had spent seven days in the lake with no luck. On day eight Piglet deployed and found the subject. Another example was when she deployed in a remote wilderness area to find a missing father/husband. After long hours in the field, Piglet found the subject who, sadly, was deceased. Though this is not the outcome wished for on any search, Piglet’s diligence and tenacity in making the find allowed the wife and nine children the ANSWERS needed to move forward. Like her smile, Piglet doesn’t fade or give up!
- Skye (Dallas, TX) – Skye was found wearing NE. tags and found in SD., and no luck in finding his owner. A volunteer recognized Skye’s drive and reached out to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. All of the disaster dogs from the foundation are rescued from shelters, trained to be disaster search dogs. They go from Rescued to Rescuer. In October of 2013, I was partnered with Skye and since then, we have been on seven deployments for disaster search and rescue. Our most recent deployment was a 15-day deployment to Hurricane Harvey. On a side note, Skye also rescued me! My father passed away in March of 2016 from a rare form of liver cancer and my oldest sister passed away in December of 2016 from a glioblastoma. I found out about my sister’s passing the day before Skye had major back surgery. Not only is Skye still a disaster search and rescue dog, but every four weeks, Skye also comes with me and serves unofficially, as a therapy dog at TX Oncology. I receive human plasma infusions every four weeks to prevent further damage to my lungs. I have no/low antibodies and as a result, get chronic pneumonia and now bronchiectasis. This disease is managed with the help of the infusions. The patients love to see Skye! When I train with Skye, I forget about all of the negativity in my life and in this world, and enjoy every bit of sweat equity that I put into training and watching Skye do what he was meant to do and what he loves to do. With him, the “Skye’s the limit!” I am blessed!
Service Dogs category (sponsored by Modern Dog)
- Sampson (Foosland, IL) – Going to college in a science field while being partnered with a service dog presented an obstacle. Service dogs were not allowed in laboratories. This began a long, winding road of overcoming resistance through persistent education to change policies. Sampson is the first service dog to gain access to a biology laboratory and now a research laboratory at the University of Illinois, which has promoted policy change nationwide. Sam is an official laboratory member of a world-renowned research laboratory. We are currently working to launch a two-year research study measuring the impact a service dog has in a laboratory environment. The findings could possibly assist in developing a national model for service dog accommodations. We have worked with the American Chemical Society, providing a template for service dog accommodations in chemistry laboratories. We volunteer time to community and veteran organizations promoting service dog awareness and education. We share our journey. We work as peer-mentors for people with service dogs helping them cope with brain injuries, psychological disorders and PTSD. The Facebook page for “Theo: The Service “Lab”rador and Sampson the Service Dog” provides inspiration to people around the world. We are changing policies. We have been able to provide hope and change because Sam is always there doing his job. He is my partner. None of what has been accomplished would have been possible without Sampson by my side. His “this is the best day ever” attitude is an inspiration to me and so many others.
- Charlie (Tremont, IL) – My name is Todd. I’m 41 years old and live in Tremont, Illinois with my wife and daughters. I was born with a condition known as hydrocephaly. Over the course of my lifetime, I have had 21 brain surgeries to place and then replace the shunts that have failed. Three years ago, I suffered a severe stroke that left me hospitalized. While there, my wife was told what to expect when I “recovered.” She was warned that she should prepare for long-term care. With the help of my stubborn streak and my service dog, Charlie, I proved them wrong. My recovery reached a plateau. I was still using a walker and became frustrated trying to move around as I am now legally blind. By working with Charlie, I have been able to retire my walker! Whenever I feel like I might fall, Charlie is there to assist. He has opened up my world and I can stay home alone without my wife worrying while she’s at work because if I drop anything or need something retrieved, he’s right there, handling these daily tasks! Charlie is with me during my physical therapy sessions. I swim and Charlie is right there by the side of the pool. Building on this confidence, I even completed a modified triathlon! Swimming, biking (on my modified trike!) and even walking the running portion of the race, I finished with Charlie by my side. I can’t express what a hero this dog is to my family. He has given me my independence back and the unconditional love that motivates me daily. I am a TRIATHLETE now and wouldn’t be here without my Charlie boy by my side.
- Roxy (Canton, NC) – Hello, everyone. My name is Justin. I am a disabled veteran from the Iraq war. I was deployed to Iraq as a U.S. Army infantry soldier. While in Baghdad during my 2006 deployment, I was blown up by an IED. I now suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Once I was out of the military, I received Roxy as a fully trained PTS Service Dog from Off Leash K9 Training in Asheville, North Carolina. Roxy is trained in basic and advanced obedience, with three Canine Good Citizenship Awards. Roxy has been trained to indicate on my anxiety, so she can help alert me before the PTS gets out of control. She helps provide a distraction, so I can concentrate on something else besides the PTS. She helps me on a daily basis with simple life tasks. If it wasn’t for her showing me that it’s okay to be in society, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I take Roxy to our local V.A. hospital to help share Roxy’s ability with other Veterans. We enjoy bringing happiness and joy to the veterans of the V.A. Most people have never seen a pit bull as a service dog, but once they meet Roxy and see what she does, you can tell how much they really enjoy meeting her. We really hope Roxy can be the next top Hero Dog, to help continue to show the world that pit bulls are good dogs, but also amazing service dogs. We appreciate your time in reading our story. Please help Roxy get to the top! Thank you for your support. God bless our Troops and our veterans until they all come home.
Therapy Dogs category (sponsored by Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food)
- Chi Chi (Phoenix, AZ) – Chi Chi is a quadruple amputee who is inspiring people all over the world. She was left for dead in South Korea where she was found in a garbage bag with her legs bound, worn to the bone, and already necrotized. The only way to save her life was to amputate portions of all four of her legs. When she first arrived at our home, she was afraid of people, but with time and lots of love and grace, she realized that she is safe and no one will ever hurt her again. She forgave and decided to trust people again. She quickly adapted to her first set of custom prosthetics and now loves spending her days as a certified therapy dog sharing her joy and cheerful demeanor with people of all ages. Recently, she had surgery to remove cancer tumors, so she is a cancer survivor. When people meet Chi Chi, they are inspired by her courage, perseverance, ability to overcome adversity and her never-give-up attitude. She exemplifies resilience and forgiveness, and openly shares her love and compassion in abundance. Her sweet-tempered and gentle spirit opens people’s hearts and her perceptive spirit senses where her love is needed. When people hear Chi Chi’s story and experience her attitude of joy, they are often inspired to face their challenges with renewed courage and a fresh perspective. Chi Chi brings joy everywhere she goes and her optimism and smile spreads quickly to others. She positively impacts thousands of people all over the world via her online therapy work through her social media account.
- Jeanie (Lake Charles, LA) – Once homeless and crippled, this three-legged dog went from rescue to certified therapy dog. Jeanie works for a children’s advocacy center where she comforts children who are questioned by forensic investigators in physical and sexual abuse cases, violent crimes, and even homicides. She and her owner volunteer at hospitals, schools, nursing homes, reading programs, and veterans’ homes, where Jeanie bonds with fellow amputees. Jeanie was rescued in south Louisiana when she was five months old and was adopted after a deformed front leg was removed by a local vet. Jeanie spent a day with traumatized elementary students who witnessed a shooting in their classroom. She helped an apprehensive child speak to officers after witnessing a murder/suicide. In both cases (and others), she provided a diversion from the horrors of those events. She attends counseling w/amputees, attends children’s grief therapy, comforts students during finals week, and visits schools’ special ed classes. A veterans’ home resident with dementia who had been crying for two weeks was calm and content, even joyful, during a visit with Jeanie. A video of the pair went viral on social media. Jeanie deserves to be the American Hero Dog because she truly makes a difference by giving love, hope and comfort to those who need it most, especially frightened and traumatized children. We hope to inspire other counseling, advocacy and law enforcement agencies to consider the benefits of therapy dogs.
- Bandit (St. Robert, MO) – Bandit is a Great Dane rescued at 14 weeks, who has spent his entire life giving back to others and not allowing his deformities to hinder him from serving those who serve our nation. He uses his deformities to show others that you can’t let being different hold you back. He works with soldiers on suicide watch, reminding them of the true meaning of unconditional love, helping break down emotional barriers. He has provided emotional support and strength to our wounded warriors, providing mobility assistance through physical therapy and being someone they can lean on. Our warriors see Bandit’s scars and deformities, and it provides strength and proof that they, too, can overcome. On a daily basis, he can be found at the USO putting smiles on our service members’ faces while they embrace him. Oftentimes they have not seen their own dog for many months. Bandit to them is a connection to home, a beacon of hope. When Bandit is not interacting with our troops, he provides support to our military family members. He works within school systems to help enhance their reading skills by allowing them to read to him, making it less intimidating for the student to learn to read. On occasions he provides support to children mourning the loss of their parent or loved one by sitting by their side and letting them know he cares. Bandit has given a lot to our nation’s heroes his entire life and I think it is time we celebrate his heart and devotion by naming him the next American Hero Dog before he retires.