LOS ANGELES, CA – Heroes are not judged merely by their size, but by the size of their hearts. Following more than a million votes by the American public and the opinions of an expert panel of celebrity animal lovers and dog experts, a tiny Chihuahua named Harley from Berthoud, Colorado has been named this year’s most courageous canine and biggest dog star, beating out 170 other heroic hounds and capturing the top title of “American Hero Dog” at the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards®, presented by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Inc. and broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel October 30 at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm Central Time.
Harley spent 10 years living in a small cage in a puppy mill before he was rescued and found a loving home. His journey of physical and emotional healing inspired a campaign called “Harley to the Rescue,” which has raised the funds to save and provide medical care for more than 500 dogs from puppy mills over the past two years. Harley personally goes on rescue missions, and there is no doubt Harley is keenly aware of what is happening. There is something indescribable in the way he communicates with the sad and scared dogs. As a spokes-dog against puppy mills, Harley has educated thousands of people of all ages about the horrors of the commercial dog breeding industry.
Harley also makes public appearances at events and schools where he gladly accepts love and attention from everyone. Harley’s battered appearance is a testament to the neglect and rough treatment he experienced, leading to a diseased heart, a mouth filled with rot, a fused spine, a broken tail, gnarled toes, and legs that were deformed. And then there is his missing eye – the result of his cage being power-washed with him in it (an all-too-common practice in puppy mills). All of these conditions were the result of years of horrendous neglect and abuse. To change this reality, Harley is a voice for the countless breeding dogs still living in puppy mills around the country. As a result of his work, Harley won the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards’ Emerging Hero Dogs category, for “ordinary” dogs who do extraordinary things. This year, the Emerging Hero Dog category is sponsored by Merial, maker of NexGard® (afoxalaner) Chewables. Thank you to them for helping draw attention to Harley and further his vital mission.
The sold-out, star-studded awards honoring America’s most courageous canines were hosted at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night by television and film star James Denton and model and animal advocate Beth Stern, accompanied by a galaxy of celebrity stars and presenters including Michelle Beadle, Bruce Boxleitner, Lacey Chabert, Cristina Ferrare, Derek Hough, Bindi Irwin, Kym Johnson, Bailee Madison, Cameron Mathison, Brandon McMillan, Pauley Perrette, Charlotte Ross, Mark Steines, Jade Roper, Alison Sweeney, Lea Thompson, Tanner Tolbert, Fred Willard who did a hilarious segment with Hallmark mascot and Hero Dog Awards spokes-dog Happy the Dog, and more. Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live and Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family provided delightful video skits.
John Ondrasik’s Five for Fighting provided the lead musical performances, which brought down the house. Before the show, the audience was treated to the artistry of The Alex Donner Band and the singers Will and Anthony Nunziata.
Guests also got to meet NBC TODAY.com writer Laura Coffey and veteran shelter animal photographer Lori Fusaro, who are raising awareness of the value of senior dogs through their forthcoming book, “My Old Dog,” as well as Todd Kessler, co-creator of the wildly successful “Blue’s Clues” television program and author of “The Good Dog.”
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. The event will be broadcast nationwide by Hallmark Channel on October 30 at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm Central. The program will air 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.
“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,” 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 Harley as the top American Hero Dog for 2015. We hope that Harley’s story will inspire people to shut down puppy mills once and for all.”
The winner is chosen through a combination of public votes and voting by a panel of animal advocates and celebrity judges including Victoria Stilwell, Jennifer Arnold, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, Philippe and Ashlan Gorse Cousteau, Alison Eastwood, Joanne Horowitz, Blake Koch, Bailee Madison, Adrienne Maloof, Agent Jerry Means, Laura Nativo, Shara Strand, Lisa Vanderpump, Kristin Bauer van Straten and Lou Wegner.
All Finalists Are Winners
Harley was the one chosen as 2015 American Hero Dog, but all eight finalists were winners in their categories, and we salute them for their courage, service and compassion:
Arson Dogs category (sponsored by State Farm)
WINNER: Glory (Evansville, WI) – Glory is a certified accelerant detection canine, trained to sniff out minute traces of hydrocarbon-based accelerants and combat the growing problem of intentionally set fires. While her team does the majority of their work around their home base in Beloit, Wisconsin, they are also called to investigate fires anywhere within the state, neighboring states, and around the country. According to her team, Glory’s keen senses go far beyond detecting accelerants. With firefighters and paramedics dealing with situations that affect them emotionally, she has the ability to sense who is having a rough day and will spend time with them, which helps relieve their stress. Public education is also a large part of the job, and Glory and her handler visit schools, clubs, and organizations, to teach people about fire safety, fire prevention, and arson awareness. (Charity Partner: Project Paws Alive)
Emerging Hero Dogs category (sponsored by Merial, maker of NexGard® (afoxalaner) Chewables)
WINNER: Harley (Berthoud, CO) – Harley spent 10 years living in a small cage in a puppy mill before he was rescued and found a loving home. His journey of physical and emotional healing inspired a campaign called “Harley to the Rescue,” which has raised the funds to save (and provide medical care for) more than 500 dogs from puppy mills over the past two years. Harley personally goes on these rescue missions; and there is no doubt Harley is keenly aware of what is happening! There is something indescribable in the way he communicates with the sad and scared dogs. As a spokes-dog against puppy mills, Harley has educated thousands of people, of all ages, about the horrors of the commercial dog breeding industry. Harley makes public appearances at events and schools where he gladly accepts love and attention from everyone. Harley’s grizzled appearance is a testament to the care and nurturing that he had never received. He had issues: a diseased heart, a mouth filled with rot, a fused spine, a broken tail, gnarled toes, and legs that were deformed. And then there is the missing eye as the result of his cage being power-washed with him in it (an all too common practice in puppy mills). All of these conditions were the result of years of horrendous neglect and abuse. Harley is a voice for the thousands of breeding dogs still living in puppy mills, and by winning the Emerging Hero Dog Award it will draw attention to help further his mission. (Charity Partner: New Leash on Life)
Guide/Hearing Dogs category (sponsored by Clover)
WINNER: Chara (Waynesboro, VA) – Chara was originally trained as a signal service dog. However, due to a work accident in 2008, her handler developed a neurological condition known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy type II with Dystonia. Thanks to the bond between handler and dog, Chara has trained herself to depict impending myoclonic dystonic attacks (15-45 minutes before episodes). This newfound “alerting” skill was formed not just with her handler. Two weeks after her handler gave birth to her son, he developed a severe cold. Unknown to his mom (who is also hearing impaired), he stopped breathing. Chara alerted her that something was terribly wrong and if it was not for her quick response and love for her newest pack member, the boy would have succumbed to a condition known as SIDS. Chara has gone beyond her original skills of hearing dog and is now considered by her family to be their furry guardian angel who watches over everyone and everything. (Charity Partner: Guide Dog Users Inc.)
Law Enforcement Dogs category
WINNER: Dax (Ashland, MA) – K9 Dax’s human partner Officer Chris Alberini, owes his life to this dog after Dax saved him from being shot by climbing into an attic where a suspect was hiding with a shotgun. On July 2, 2013 the team was called to assist in the search for the suspect, who had an active arrest warrant. Officer Alberini called into the house the suspect had entered and told him to come out or he would send in Dax. When no one responded, they started to search the house. Dax found a ceiling hatch leading to an attic and alerted his companion, who yelled up to the suspect to come down. The man did not respond. Officer Alberini hoisted Dax into the attic, where he bit the suspect’s leg. Officer Alberini followed, carrying a flashlight and found Dax fighting with the suspect. When the man started reaching for a shotgun by his left side, Officer Alberini began fighting for the weapon and then drew his service weapon and shot the suspect twice. The man would have likely fired at Officer Alberini immediately if Dax had not gone into the attic first. Investigators later learned that the suspect had texted his attorney and girlfriend about killing police. (Charity Partner: K9s4COPS)
Military Dogs category (sponsored by the RIMADYL K-9 Courage Program™ from Zoetis)
WINNER: Rambo (Converse, TX) – Sgt. Rambo served in the Marine Corps from January 2011-April 2012 as an explosive detection MWD based out of Cherry Point, N.C. While on active duty, Rambo conducted 994 hours of training and 622 missions on base and in his local community. Rambo was medically retired due to a left shoulder injury and in November 2012 had to have that limb amputated. Rambo has gone on to be Alamo Honor Flight’s mascot, accompanying countless World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. and even having the honor of meeting Senator and Mrs. Bob Dole, serving as the official ambassador for the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, and attending press conferences with both Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Rambo is currently the mascot for Gizmo’s Gift, a Texas nonprofit that offers financial support to families who adopt a retired working dog. While visiting local nursing homes he is able to bring love and life to the residents who suffer with dementia. He visits youth groups during the summer and brings hope to children with special needs.
Special Congressional Mention
Rambo and his handler Lisa Phillips received special mention from Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (FL) and Henry Cuellar (TX), founders of the Congressional Caucus for the Humane Bond.
“Each of these highly trained dogs saves an estimated 150 to 200 lives on the battlefield,” said Congressman Bilirakis. “And after returning home, these military dogs continue to save lives, helping veterans to cope with the hidden wounds of war. That’s why we’ve been working with American Humane Association to bring all these heroes home once they retire and reunite them with their hero handlers.
“America’s brave military dog teams keep our nation safe, and no warrior should ever be deprived of his Battle Buddy,” said Congressman Cuellar. “The Hero Dog Awards’ Military Dog category honors America’s brave canine warriors – and I’m proud to say that this year’s winner, Military Working Dog Rambo, hails from Converse, Texas – my home district. Congratulations to MWD Rambo and his mom Lisa Phillips as they continue to help both Veterans and their brave military dogs”
(Charity Partner: America’s VetDogs, the Veteran’s K-9 Corps)
Search and Rescue Dogs category
WINNER: Glory (Sun Valley, CA) – Glory is an eight-year-old Bloodhound who has been trained and certified to track lost pets. During her long and successful career, she has helped bring closure to hundreds of families. Glory works in extreme temperatures and under difficult conditions and is devoted to her work, as several relieved pet owners can attest: “We were terrified,” said Stephanie, the owner of a lost cat, Pistol. “Pistol was gone from our front yard and we had no idea where to look. When Glory led to the freeway and wanted to cross, I couldn’t believe it. But Glory was right, and we had Pistol back that same afternoon – Pistol had crossed the 101 freeway and was right across from where Glory indicated.” “How does one even put words to an experience of knowing we may never have seen Paisley again?” said the owner of a Yorkshire lost for three days. “Without Glory’s devotion to her work, we wouldn’t be sitting here with Paisley tonight.” “When I received the devastating news Goldie was missing, I spent six nights walking through the area and calling into a megaphone, put up 300 posters and offered a $1,000 reward,” said the owner of a lost Pomeranian. “Goldie was lost 60 miles away with no food or water – it was more than my family could bear. Our hearts were broken. At nine days missing Glory found Goldie alive under crates in an outdoor factory.” (Charity Partner: National Search Dog Alliance)
Service Dogs category (sponsored by Modern Dog magazine)
WINNER: Axel (Fredericksburg, VA) – Five years ago, now-retired Marines Captain Jason Haag was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury after returning from two combat tours in the Middle East. When he finally made it home, he was in a constant state of severe depression and mental agony. He struggled with alcohol abuse and took more than 30 medications to deal with his debilitating symptoms. In 2012, his wife urged him to reach out to K9s for Warriors, an organization that provides veterans with service canines, which is how he met who he calls his “lifesaver,” a German shepherd named Axel. On deployment, every soldier is paired up with a battle buddy, and these days his battle buddy is not another Marine, but Axel. Day in and day out, Axel is by his side, ensuring that he is in a constant state of peace and not fear. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge from Axel to remind him that he is out of the combat zone. Other times, Axel goes into full activation mode, using his training to remove Captain Haag from an environment when a severe panic attack has begun. When he met Axel, the dog was one week away from being put down, sleeping on a shelter floor while Captain Haag was sleeping in his basement with a gun under his pillow. Now he shares a bed with his “big, furry security blanket.” (Charity Partner: Dogs on Deployment)
Therapy Dogs category
WINNER: Hudson the Railroad Puppy (Castleton, N.Y.) – At just three weeks old, Hudson and two of his siblings were found nailed to the railroad tracks in Albany, N.Y. and Hudson’s paw had been cut off. After lifesaving treatment for Hudson and Pearl (sadly, their sister Carina did not make it) they became known as the “Railroad Puppies.” After several surgeries it was decided that Hudson was a great candidate for a prosthetic limb and Hudson became one of the first dogs in New York State to be fitted with a prosthetic paw. After being adopted, Hudson’s family knew he was special and could do great things and spread awareness about animal cruelty and so they had him trained to be a therapy dog. Now he visits schools, hospitals, adult day care facilities, and they are also now hospice volunteers visiting with patients and their families. The team teaches children and everyone they meet that just because you are different, you are still special in your own “Wooftastic” way. Hudson the Railroad Puppy brings smiles to everyone he meets and is changing hearts and minds about the pit bull breed one at a time. (Charity Partner: Hand in Paw)
The online sponsor for the Hero Dog Awards is leading animal health company Zoetis. Each of the eight finalists received $1,500 to be donated to one of American Humane Association’s charity partners. Harley won an additional $5,000 for his charity, New Leash on Life. In this way, more heroes may be nurtured.
Special Video Premiered on Lifesaving Transport to Save Animals in Shelters
Other heroes were recognized, as well. Every year, some 6-8 million dogs and cats are relinquished to shelters across the United States and 3-4 million are euthanized. To help more animals find forever homes, philanthropist and American Humane Association board member Lois Pope conceived of a series of lifesaving transcontinental transports of animals from areas where they faced bleak prospects to rescues and other groups that can place the animals in forever homes. This summer, American Humane Association, North Shore League America, Pilots N Paws, celebrity animal lover Beth Stern, and nearly two dozen other groups teamed up to carry hundreds of beautiful animals to safety, traveling thousands of miles by land and air. A special video documenting the transports was premiered at the Hero Dog Awards gala and will be broadcast coast to coast during the national Hallmark Channel television special on October 30.
“Dogs have always occupied a special place in my heart, and when I learned about the situation, I knew we had to do something,” said Lois Pope. “I hope this project will inspire many people to adopt more of the millions of animals so they can experience the love and the lives they deserve.”
“Lois Pope has been America’s Light of Compassion for America’s children and animals,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association’s president and CEO. “She has supported efforts that reach some 40,000 lives each and every minute, she has sponsored two of our lifesaving Red Star Rescue trucks, which save animals in disasters and were used in this transport. And she continues to find ways to improve life for all of our most vulnerable. On their behalf, we salute you, Lois!”
Heroes Who Save and Keep Our Hero Pets Healthy Also Honored
Behind every hero pet is a hero vet or vet tech. In addition to the Hero Dog Awards, which honors heroes on both ends of the leash, American Humane Association also announced the winners of its Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Technician Awards™, sponsored by the leading animal health company Zoetis. After a nationwide search and tens of thousands of public votes, Annette Sysel, DVM, president of the Bauer Research Foundation in Vero Beach, Florida, was named 2015’s American Hero Veterinarian, and Julia Carlson of Pima Medical Institute in Phoenix, Arizona was declared 2015’s American Hero Veterinary Technician.
“To us, all vets and vet techs are heroes and this is why we want to honor the best of the best in their fields,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association’s president and CEO. “Indeed, Dr. Sysel and Ms. Carlson are tremendous animal welfare advocates and we are so proud to learn of their laudable accomplishments aiding the animals in need in their communities and beyond through the groundbreaking research on animal cancer done by Dr. Sysel. And our thanks go out to our friends at Zoetis for sponsoring this special contest because we know how committed they are to recognizing the achievements of the veterinary community.”
Honoring Our Heroes’ Supporters
American Humane Association honored 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,” said Dr. Ganzert. “Thank you to Lois Pope and the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Hallmark Channel, Zoetis, the national online sponsor of the Hero Dog Awards and sponsor of the Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Technician Awards, Military Dog sponsor RIMADYL K-9 Courage Program™ from Zoetis, Arson Dog sponsor State Farm®, Emerging Hero Dog sponsor Merial, maker of NexGard® (afoxalaner) Chewables, Service Dog sponsor Modern Dog Magazine, Guide/Hearing Dog sponsor Clover, and the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Dogs may be our best friends, but these caring organizations are theirs.”
CEO of Hallmark Channel Honored
Finally, American Humane Association awarded its coveted National Humanitarian Medal to Hallmark president and CEO Bill Abbott for his abiding love of animals and efforts to improve their lives.
“Bill is a true friend of animals,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert. “Few men have the ability to make the impact he has, personally and professionally, on so many lives. “For the millions he has touched, we are pleased to award him our highest honor, American Humane Association’s National Humanitarian Medal. Thank you, Bill, for your passion, your dedication, and your lifetime commitment to all the animals of the world.”