Pit Bull Named Year’s Top “American Hero Dog” at the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards

Leah Brewer from North Carolina with her pit bull Elle with writer Melissa Curtin. Elle was named this year’s “American Hero Dog” at the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards featured on the Hallmark Channel. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

The point of the award show is to celebrate these dogs who really work and perform service to humans,” Dr. Robin  Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association. On October 6 the Beverly Hilton was flooded with guests and their favorite family members – their dogs. These dogs flew in from all over the U.S. because they were being honored for their contributions to mankind. The Hero Dog Awards were created to celebrate the powerful relationship between dogs and people and recognize extraordinary acts of heroism performed by ordinary dogs.

Ryan O’Neal and his son Redmond, who later accepted the Inspiration Dog Award for Farrah Fawcett due to her love of animals. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

As I entered the event I was jumped on by the most loving fluffy three legged dog who just wanted to kiss me and have me pet him. It was wonderful to see Ryan O’Neal and his son Redmond, who later accepted the Inspiration Dog Award for Farrah Fawcett due to her love of animals. Ryan O’Neal told a story about Farrah’s dog Sachel who didn’t ‘make it’ when she raced to the vet in Malibu, to eventually drive home with her dog in the back of her trunk. O’Neal recounts how they buried the dog together and over the years everything grew up over him, from Redwoods to vineyards.

Throughout the evening celebrities rolled in to this grand affair for cocktails over a silent auction, then made their way to a fabulous sit down dinner where the whole inspirational evening of dog tales were broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel October 30 at 8pm/7pm Central, produced by Emmy® award-winning MRB Productions. The 90-minute program aired as part of Hallmark Channel’s Pet Project, the network’s cross-platform advocacy campaign designed to celebrate the joy and enrichment animals bring to our lives.

Entertainment guests such as Betty White, Lori Loughlin, Jennifer Coolidge, Eric Christian Olsen, Rico Rodriguez, Naomi Judd, Lisa Vanderpump, and more came out to lend their support. Joey Lawrence hosted the event, and Jennifer Coolidge had hundreds of guests howling with laughter at the end of the night after an inspirational showcase of brave dogs helping mankind.

Betty White with Elle, the pit bull who was named “American Hero Dog” at the 2013 American Humane Association. (Photo credit: Michael Reuter)

During a nationwide search over the course of six months, 141 dogs from all across the country were nominated and more than a million votes were cast by the American public, culminating in the selection of eight extraordinary canine finalists in the following categories – emerging hero dog, guide dog, hearing dog, law enforcement/arson dogs military dog, search and rescue dog, and service dog.  The evening featured man’s best friend and the unbelievable contributions dogs play in our lives. I learned about how dogs can detect ovarian and thyroid cancer by actually going to the malignant cancer cells versus others in a room who were healthy. Stories of how one dog saved a drowning man or how another dog named Lola helped a blind lady daily by alerting her to sounds like the doorbell, oven, and fire alarm, had us in tears. We learned about Operation Purple Camp, a place where dogs help kids whose parents are in the military and leave home since dogs help relieve anxiety and depression. Another canine named Carlos served three years protecting our troops due to the dog’s innate ability to detect explosives. Carlos saved countless peoples’s lives working with the special forces.

Host Joseph Lawrence preps to take the mic at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards 2013 held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo credit: Michael Reuter)

The nation’s top therapy dog, a pit bull named Elle (pronounced Ellie) from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina who helps teach children about dog safety, reading, and overcoming prejudice and stereotypes – something a pit bull knows too much about – was named this year’s “American Hero Dog” at the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog AwardsTM. Elle and her human companion Leah Brewer were presented with the nation’s top honors presented by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Inc. Elle is saving lives by teaching children dog safety (more than 2 million children are bitten by dogs each year) and making positive life changes for people by helping them overcome their fear of dogs. Since becoming a volunteer, Elle started a therapy dog reading program called “Tail Wagging Tales,” helping children enjoy books and improve their reading skills. Elle is also making a difference by creating happiness all around while visiting her friends at an elementary school, a middle school, and a retirement home. Elle also reaches out to educate families about being responsible pet parents, sharing stories about her job as a therapy dog, and spreading positive awareness about dogs that are misunderstood, including pit bulls.

This year’s therapy dog category sponsor, as well as the online sponsor, is the leading animal health company, Zoetis. Elle’s charity partner, which will receive $6,500 in financial support from the Hero Dog Awards, is the nonprofit organization, Hand in Paw.

Actress Lori Loughlin and Hero Dog Jingles playing backstage at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards 2013 held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo credit: Michael Reuter)

Other stars that came out included Esai Morales, Pauley Perrette, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Bailee Madison, Rico Rodriguez, Brian Baumgartner, Megan Blake, Max Carver, Torrey DeVitto, Matt Leinart, Lauren Potter, Ben Savage, Austin Stowell, Chef Michael Voltaggio, Danielle Fishell,  Daphne Zuniga, Victoria Stillwell and many more. Popular TV stars Jenni Pulos and Lisa Vanderpump served as Red Carpet hosts. The talented Frankie Moreno, named Las Vegas’ Headliner of the Year, provided the lead musical performances with striking and original songs written especially for the awards that brought down the house. Before the show, singer and Billboard recording artist Shara Strand turned in a stirring performance of “I Will Carry You,” which she wrote for American Humane Association, and guitarist Tom Caufield set a sensitive and lyrical tone during the Red Carpet, silent auction and gala dinner.

“The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards were created to honor some of the most extraordinary heroes the world has ever known, the very best of our ‘best friends’ – ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane Association. “These courageous canines have gone above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives on the battlefield, comforting the ill, aged and afflicted, bringing hope to those who have lost it and reminding us of the powerful, age-old bond between animals and people. Choosing a top dog is difficult because they are all so terrific, but we are proud to announce Elle as the top American Hero Dog for 2013. As an organization that for years has fought breed-specific legislation (BSL), we are also pleased to honor a breed that has been often been unjustly maligned. We hope that Elle’s story will help to underscore the many tremendously positive qualities of this breed.”

Hero Dog Bronx and actress Bailee Madisonshowing each other some love at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards 2013 held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo credit: Michael Reuter)

The winner is chosen through a combination of public votes and voting by a panel of animal advocates and celebrity judges including Victoria Stilwell, Kristin Chenoweth, Candy Spelling, Miranda Lambert, Dr. Marty Becker, Michelle Forbes, Megyn Price, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, Blake Koch, Tara Harper, Jerry Means, Nancy Otte, Michael Hingson, Shara Strand, Maria Milito, and Ashley Rhodes-Courter. All Finalists Are Winners

Elle was the one chosen as 2013 American Hero Dog, but all eight finalists were winners in their categories. They are honored for their courage, service and compassion:

EMERGING HERO DOGS CATEGORY (sponsored by Paul Mitchell Schools) WINNER: Cassidy (Midvale, UT) — Three years ago a good Samaritan pulled over to pick up a pile of trash on the side of the highway. Under the garbage was a skinny, matted, scared little black dog who had been hit by a car. Cassidy was rushed to the emergency vet where his front leg was amputated. Sheltie Rescue of Utah took him into their program and Cassidy found his forever home with Kathy. But Cassidy’s amazing journey did not stop there; he is an advocate for special needs rescues and works to show that every life has value. He is proof that dogs are not disposable. Cassidy and his mom also do presentations for children about disabilities, acceptance and how everyone is different, special and has something positive to give to the world. Cassidy visits rehabilitation centers and is living proof that there is always hope and that anything is possible. Despite everything he has been through he has a very loving and trusting nature. He snuggles into each person’s arms and shows them that he is perfect the way he is and that they too are perfect the way they are. (Charity Partner: Sheltie Rescue of Utah)

The dogs after making their red carpet appearance at the Dog Hero Awards 2013. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

GUIDE DOG CATEGORY WINNER: Jingles (Amsterdam, NY) — Jingles is a Lab/Golden cross guide dog who works as part of a heroic team with a diabetic alert canine to help Karen Ann, who is multiply disabled. Jingles is joy unbounded, full of exuberance, and works hard to guide Karen Ann safely in every situation. Crossing streets Jingles maintains focus in the face of blaring horns, screeching brakes, and quiet hybrid vehicles that sneak up out of nowhere. She’s adept at avoiding kids on scooters, people bustling by, construction barriers and the distraction of yapping pet dogs on flexi leads. In stores she steers Karen Ann clear of day-dreaming shoppers darting out of aisles with loaded carts, and guides her safely to where she wants to go. Jingles was trained to work on the left side of her partner but since Karen Ann is unable to work a dog on that side, Jingles underwent additional training and now she is Karen Ann’s “right hand” girl. Jingles is unusual among guide dogs as she’s trained to work in tandem with a second service dog. Together they offer a profoundly special gift to Karen Ann, offering her independence, safety and dignity. Karen Ann says both dogs are her heroes, but “Jingles is absolutely a one of a kind guide dog.” (Charity Partner: The Seeing Eye)

Actresses Jennifer Coolidge and Pauley Perrette catch up backstage during the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards 2013 held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo credit: Michael Reuter)

HEARING DOG CATEGORY (Sponsored by MRB Productions) WINNER: Lola (Bellingham, Washington) – Lola, a dog rescued from abuse and neglect, is paying it forward—daily helping and rescuing her partner Charlene, who is deaf. Charlene relies on Lola for so many things, connecting her to the world of sound around her. Lola is her alarm clock, her exercise companion, and her reason to move beyond depression and self-imposed isolation. Lola expands her activities, reminding Charlene to improve, not compromise, her quality of life. Whenever the oven-timer buzzes, the phone rings, or someone knocks at the door—Lola alerts her and insists on Charlene’s paying attention to the world around her. She’s always game for going to the ballpark, hospital visits, grocery store, rides on airplanes – even canoeing. Lola is a gem of a partner; she lightens Charlene’s spirit as a source of courage and peace. When Charlene is alone, she helps her cope with the impact of hearing loss. Says Charlene, “Let the trumpets blow, fireworks blast, and the parade begin—my hearing dog Lola is a life-saver—an unsung heroine who gives her best daily to fulfill a higher purpose and for whom I’ll be forever grateful.” (Charity Partner: Dogs for the Deaf)

LAW ENFORCEMENT/ARSON DOG CATEGORY (sponsored by State Farm®) WINNER: K9 Lakota (Locust Grove, Georgia) — K9 Lakota served alongside Officer Travis Fox for less than four years but made remarkable achievements in his short career, among them more than 80 apprehensions, 28 drug seizures, $60,000 seized, six vehicle seizures, the recovery of stolen property, and the seizure of $60,000. K9 Lakota’s career was ended prematurely in route to a home invasion call when Officer Fox and K9 Lakota ended up in a serious car accident. The accident split the car in two, ejecting both the officer and the dog from the car. K9 Lakota was not expected to live but his strong spirit fought on and after four surgeries (with more expected in his future), he is enjoying life in retirement. His work and his will to fight and live have shown his heroic side and he has brought people all over the world together for his cause. His story is now being used to help change laws for Law Enforcement Officer K9s so that they are better protected by their departments in case they are injured in the line of duty. K9 Lakota has been a true hero both in the line of duty and in retirement. (Charity Partner: K9s4COPs)

Ryan O’Neal and his son Redmond accepting the award on behalf of Farrah Fawcett. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

MILITARY DOG CATEGORY (sponsored by Royal Canin®) WINNER: CWD Carlos EDD (Colorado Springs, CO) — Explosive Detection Dog CWD Carlos retired in 2011 at the age of eight, after protecting U.S. and ISAF forces in continuous deployment for nearly five years. CWD Carlos, who worked with the U.S. Army’s 3rd & 4th Infantry Divisions in Baghdad for two and a half years, was then transferred to Kandahar in 2009 to work in direct support of U.S. Special Forces on the front lines. Carlos is credited with finds on missions that saved the lives of many American soldiers. As Carlos aged, he was transferred to work with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan that was established by the United Nations Security Council. Sadly, upon retirement Carlos seems to have been the victim of neglect. To this day, Carlos still carries ligature mark scars on his back legs from hobble-style restraints. Fortunately for this hero, he was reclaimed, eventually adopted by the Ridpath family, and got a “Freedom Flight” HOME! Carlos continues to bring awareness to the contributions of all working dogs. A warrior with a zest for life in spite of his challenging medical issues, CWD Carlos is a true hero who saved uncounted lives while deployed, attends events, visits schools, and is an inspiration to everyone he meets. (Charity Partner: Military Working Dog Adoptions)

SEARCH AND RESCUE DOG CATEGORY WINNER: John D (Little Rock, AR) — John D is a Search and Rescue dog, human cancer detective and all-around humanitarian. When needed, John D is called in to find the missing in kidnappings, disasters, drownings, and other emergencies. One day, John D was called in for a river search. Moments after he arrived, a woman approached and asked to pet him. She hugged him and whispered in his ear, “YOU are my only hope. Please go find my child. Please bring my baby back to me.” There was an immediate bond between them. John D then boarded a boat and went out on the river. For hours he searched. John D was drawn to the water, completely focused on it and began dipping his nose at the same spot. When the boat returned to shore, this hero dog leapt off the boat, running straight to the woman who had greeted him. He leaned hard against her. She bent down and hugged him. When she lifted her face from John D’s fur, there were tears. John D had found her son who had drowned two days before. John D also works to save lives by using his remarkable scenting ability to advance the use of canines in detecting ovarian cancer and other cancers, which may help save a mother, daughter or sister from a devastating disease. John D’s determination to work, despite his own severe hip dysplasia, provides inspiration to others. Once a rescue dog saved by people, now John D spends his life helping and saving them. (Charity Partner: The Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve)

Host Joey Lawrence of the grand doggy affair. (Photo credit: Melissa Curtin)

SERVICE DOG CATEGORY WINNER: SD Bronx (Brunswick, GA) — Can you imagine having your whole world change? Can you imagine having no friends? For 14-year-old Christopher those two questions were his reality. At the age of nine, Christopher began having seizures and was spending most of his childhood in the hospital trying to get answers. The answers were coming, but none of them were good. The doctors found out what was causing the seizures and they tried to use medicine to control them – one medicine after another. The seizures made it impossible for Christopher to attend school and other kids no longer wanted to be his friend – they were afraid of the seizures. Even Christopher was too afraid to sleep in his bedroom and didn’t like leaving the house – the seizures had taken his childhood from him. Enter SD Bronx! Suddenly Christopher was not alone in his terrifying fight. His hero dog would tell him when seizures were about to happen and quickly alert others to help. SD Bronx stayed by his side at all doctor visits, and was there when Christopher lost half his field of vision, stepping into another role and working with Christopher and his sight cane. The challenges were hard but hero dog SD Bronx has helped Christopher to do more than he ever dreamed he could. (Charity Partner: Texas Hearing and Service Dogs) Each of the eight finalists received $1,500 to be donated to one of American Humane Association’s charity partners. Elle won an additional $5,000 for her charity. In this way, more heroes may be nurtured.

Human Heroes Also Honored The Hero Dog Awards honors heroes “on both ends of the leash,” as well as outstanding contributors to the fields of child and animal welfare. The evening featured a special tribute video to philanthropist Lois Pope, who was awarded American Humane Association’s coveted “Legacy Award” for helping millions of children, veterans, and animals through her support of American Humane Association’s Red Star™ rescue services, her presenting sponsorship for two years of the Hero Dog Awards, and many other charities. “We are honored to count Mrs. Lois Pope as a true friend to American Humane Association because of her unyielding passion for helping our most precious treasures, our children and animals,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association president and CEO. “We know our work is never done, but because of Mrs. Pope’s grace and generosity, we will be able to continue our 136-year old mission for many generations to come. Indeed, she is a true humanitarian in every sense of the word.”

Country star Miranda Lambert was awarded the National Humanitarian Medal for her longtime dedication to helping animals in need. In 2011 she and her MuttNation Foundation worked with American Humane Association to get relief to the animals affected by the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. In 2012 she and her foundation sponsored the winning Military Dog category of the Hero Dog Awards. And this year, following the EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, she, her foundation, and her family all worked to help our Red Star rescue team save animals in the disaster zone. Gus Arrendale, president of Springer Mountain Farms, was recognized for being the first major poultry producer to voluntarily enroll in the American Humane Certified® program, the nation’s first, oldest, and largest farm animal welfare auditing and certification program, now ensuring the humane treatment of nearly 1 billion of the 10 billion animals living on America’s farms and ranches. Mr. Arrendale’s vision is for all-natural animals raised humanely on a vegetarian diet without the use of antibiotics, steroids, growth stimulants or hormones. For his early and forward-looking commitment to the welfare of the animals in his care, he was awarded the National Humanitarian Medal. Finally, we honor the many generous sponsors who support the Hero Dog Awards and made them possible. “We thank the animals, their dedicated owners and handlers, and the generous sponsors who have helped bring about that recognition,” says Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane Association. “Thank you to the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Hallmark Channel, national online sponsor and Therapy Dog sponsor Zoetis®, Military Dog sponsor Royal Canin®, Law Enforcement and Arson Dog sponsor State Farm®, Emerging Hero Dog sponsor Paul Mitchell Schools, Hearing Dog sponsor MRB Productions, Best Producer sponsor Merial, print sponsor Modern Dog magazine, and Pet Life Radio whose Super Smiley served as our 2013 National Spokesdog . Dogs may be our best friends, but these caring organizations are theirs.”

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