America's animal lovers have spoken, and after nearly half a million votes from across the country, 21 courageous canines have advanced to the semifinal rounds of the 2019 American Humane Hero Dog Awards®, sponsored by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation and Zoetis Petcare (a U.S. business unit of Zoetis), and broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel.
The two-hour special, now in its ninth year, will be aired this fall in conjunction with the network's pet adoption advocacy initiative, Hallmark Channel's Adoption Ever After, which aims to empty shelters and end this country's epidemic of pet homelessness.
The 21 heroic hounds were chosen by the American public to advance to the semifinals from a field of 361 remarkable candidates. The public is invited to visit www.HeroDogAwards.org between now and July 18 to vote once per day in each of the seven Hero Dog categories. The seven finalists will get to travel to Los Angeles to take part in the star-studded ninth annual Hero Dog Awards gala on October 5 at the Beverly Hilton, where one will be chosen as the 2019 American Hero Dog, the top honor a dog can receive.
The seven categories for 2019 are: Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs, sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare; Military Dogs, sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare; Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs, sponsored by Lulu's Fund;Shelter Dogs, sponsored by Hallmark Channel; and Search and Rescue Dogs and Guide/Hearing Dogs, both sponsored by Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food.
Key dates for the 2019 American Humane Hero Dog Awards contest are:
- 2nd Round Voting: May 23 – July 18
- 3rd Round Voting: Aug. 1 – Sept. 9
- Hero Dog Awards: Oct. 5
All voting rounds open and close at 12 pm Pacific Time on the dates listed above.
Meet the 21 remarkable Hero Dog Awards semifinalists!
Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs category (sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare)
- Harley (Austin, TX) – K9 Harley started out as a stray and found himself spending nearly nine months in the Williamson County Animal Shelter in Georgetown, Texas. In 2014, I, Noah Moncivais, had the opportunity to select and train a rescue dog from the shelter. After testing numerous dogs, K9 Harley showed tremendous drive. The shelter said that the reason K9 Harley had been overlooked was his breed (Pitbull mix). K9 Harley would be trained for three specialties: narcotics detection, tracking for search and rescue, and area searches. With the assistance of an in-house trainer, I trained K9 Harley over the next six months. K9 Harley hit the ground running and assisted patrol and narcotics units in central Texas, including the Round Rock police department. In May 2015, K9 Harley and I took on the bigger challenge of assisting with search and rescue efforts during the Memorial Day floods that affected central Texas. K9 Harley and I were deployed to disaster zones only accessible by helicopter, and attempted to locate missing loved ones. Over the following years, K9 Harley has not only had the responsibility of using the skills for which he was trained, but has also become a symbol for community policing. K9 Harley and I have completed numerous K9 demonstrations for children of all ages.
- Dax (Libertyville, IL) – Dax began his successful career with the Lake County (IL) Sheriff's Office almost four years ago. He has been directly responsible for tracking and successfully apprehending over 70 suspects. Dax has also been accountable for tracking and finding dozens of missing or endangered children and adults. Dax has been used for over 100 narcotic searches resulting in the seizure of over 17 kilos of cocaine, heroin and other narcotics, hundreds of pounds of cannabis, approximately three quarters of a million dollars in currency, dozens of firearms, and vehicles. Dax's top deployments in 2018 included tracking and locating a dangerous domestic violence offender who forced his way into a home and then battered and choked a woman until she lost consciousness; capturing a robbery suspect even after the offender struck Dax repeatedly; and, apprehending a wanted fugitive (who was allegedly armed) hiding in the attic of a home covered in fiberglass insulation. Dax saved the lives of citizens and deputies in late 2018 when he tracked a fugitive who had allegedly committed a burglary, was in the process of stealing a vehicle from its owner, and then brandished a gun at pursuing deputies. The fugitive was charged with attempted murder and several other felonies after being located by Dax. Dax's tireless drive, dedication to training, love for police work, and incredible success stories have gained him thousands of supporters from across the country. Dax has proven to be an outstanding K9 hero!
- Duke (Menlo Park, CA) – Duke is a four-year-old European Doberman who is a narcotics detection K9 for the Menlo Park Police Department in California. His handler is Detective Sergeant Ed Soares and is assigned to the Special Enforcement Unit. Duke has been in service since June of 2016 but has been with Sgt. Soares since he was eight weeks old when he bought him as a personal pet and made him into a working K9 for his department. Since his incorporation into his unit he has been credited for numerous arrests, the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of narcotics, and getting numerous dangerous firearms taken off the streets. On top of narcotics work, Sgt. Soares and K9 Duke visit schools and hospitals around California and conduct demos and meet and greets with children. Duke has become a wonderful and powerful ambassador for law enforcement due to his outgoing, lively nature and his ability to connect with the public, especially children. Duke loves his job – finding dangerous drugs – but his favorite job is showing kids that cops are their friends.
Shelter Dogs category (sponsored by Hallmark Channel)
- Gus (Houston, TX) – Gus was found walking aimlessly down a busy street with a head so severely swollen, you couldn't tell he was a dog. A shoelace was tied so tightly on him that it sliced through his flesh in his neck almost to the bone. Through his recovery he gained thousands of well-wishers from all over the country and other countries, as well. He brought attention to the plight of homeless animals and how they suffer. His good nature and compliance through all his very difficult procedures and surgeries have given people hope and something to cheer for. He has been the glue for people from all over the world who look to him for some good in this seemingly uncaring climate. His innocence and sweetness transcend cultural differences and indifference to the homeless dog crisis in Houston and other cities facing the same situation. Because of him and his message, more people are fostering and adopting dogs from shelters, as well as stopping to help the stray dog that is only looking for something to eat and a gentle touch. People are taking notice and getting more involved in animal welfare. I believe Gus came to us with a specific purpose and mission. He is the tender soul who opens hearts and helps people know that there are more Gusses out there who are just as special as he is, and that we all can do something to help and not just turn away. #gusstrong #iamgus
- Freddie Mercury (Tehachapi, CA) – Freddie Mercury broke her front legs and never received medical care for her injuries. She was left outside in the cold, in a bag. She was also born with a severe underbite. I cried when I received puppy photos of Freddie and heard what had happened. Despite being thrown out like trash, she found her way to me and is now inspiring thousands of people through her social media posts every day. She brightens my world and sends a ripple effect of positivity to so many others. We've received messages from kids who are being bullied in school and the first thing they do when they get home is go to Freddie's Instagram page to find happiness and comfort. She spreads a powerful message to just be yourself, unapologetically. Freddie has an important role in this world and she's just getting started.
- Titus (Islip Terrace, NY) – Titus has continuously proven that there is nothing wrong with shelter dogs. He has won over the hearts of over a quarter million Facebook followers and we have been told that he helps many through rough times with his posts, pictures and awesome personality. He has raised over $200,000 for rescues and shelters since we adopted him. He holds auctions and fundraisers, and sits for hours in a kissing booth helping to raise money for rescues. He was picked up off the streets with a broken leg and bad mange and was an hour away from being euthanized when he was rescued. I cannot picture my life without him and have heard the same from many of his followers.
Guide/Hearing Dogs category (sponsored by Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food)
- Kannon (Madison, WI) – Hi, everyone! As a guide dog, my life is dedicated to helping my Mom live life to the fullest. The first day I met Mom I gave her a kiss from her chin to her forehead. I was so excited and happy to start our adventure. Every day I navigate, communicate and intelligently disobey to protect Mom as her guide dog. Though 70 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed, I empower Mom to work with confidence and independence as a project manager at the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds. Mom and I have a strong bond and we serve as a voice for others who cannot advocate for themselves. We are members of the Madison Evening Lions and the Dane County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. We volunteer on the Wisconsin Statutory Council on Blindness and the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired board to eliminate artificial barriers that exclude people who are blind or visually impaired. Our greatest adventure this year was a trip to Pennsylvania where we participated in the AFSP Out of the Darkness event. We walked from sunset to sunrise and raised $2,000 for suicide prevention and awareness! Did you know that suicide is the second greatest cause of death in teenagers and that every day 123 lives are lost to suicide? While we walked, we remembered Pat, Mom's twin brother, all those who died, all those who suffer from mental illness, and all survivors. Remember, like my Mom and me, you are never alone. Sending you love, joy, and hope.
- Leader Dog Lady (Hamilton, MI) – I'm legally blind. Leader Dog Lady is my guide dog. My world has changed so much since Lady came into my life. Leader Dog Lady is my eyes and she guides me to wherever I need to go and helps me with whatever I need to do. We go on a plane once or twice a year. I love life because I have Leader Dog Lady by my side. I'm more independent and much more confident. I see the world through Leader Dog Lady's eyes and it's a world where I set goals for us for the year. Friends and family always ask what Leader Dog Lady and my adventures are going to be. My life is busy because of Lady. We educate people about Leader Dogs for the Blind, go to Lions Club conventions to promote Leader Dogs for the Blind. We attend big events and fundraisers for this wonderful organization. July will be our four-year anniversary as a team. Leader Dog Lady loves to work and I feel safe crossing busy intersections, getting on a plane, or walking three miles. She goes to work with me and my co-workers love her. There is nothing we can't do. Leader Dog Lady is so smart and she's a very beautiful Black Lab. When out in public, people are looking at Leader Dog Lady and not asking me a ton of questions about my vision. Because of Lady I'm more social and more comfortable. I love and trust her more than people. To be a good working team, this is very important. I am nominating Leader Dog Lady for Hero Dog. She is my HERO!!
- Swifty (Cape Coral, FL) – Hi, I'm Crystle and I was born legally blind. I've always dreamed about my future and what it would be like to be more independent and successful in society. I was never sure I'd be able to do that confidently with my visual impairment. So, when the time was right, I applied for a guide dog. I was so nervous when it was time to go. This was my first plane trip anywhere and it was alone. I arrived in New York at the Guide Dog Foundation not knowing what to expect. Time flew by while I was there, from the moment I first met Swifty to the last day at graduation. I could already feel the bond between Swifty and me was strong and had no idea how this bond would grow as time went on. While working with Swifty I felt empowered for the first time and excited to go out and do anything. Swifty and I spent nine years together as a team accomplishing so many things, but the best part about our journey was starting a dog training and pet sitting business. Swifty is the reason why I started this business. He absolutely loved his job! He took it very seriously and inspired me to do something I am passionate about. Now that Swifty is retired and I have been without a dog, life does not feel the same. I did go back to the Guide Dog Foundation and get another Guide Dog, but it did not work out. Swifty is my hero because he is courageous and supports me. Even though he's retired, he still wants to be there for me. He deserves recognition for his hard work and dedication to me.
Military Dogs category (sponsored by K-9 Courage from Zoetis Petcare)
- SSG Summer (Mount Airy, MD) – Staff Sergeant Summer is a highly decorated eight-year-old female Labrador Retriever. Summer retired from the United States Marine Corps in March 2013 after serving several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Specialized Search Dog. Summer put her life on the line to keep the troops safe and comfort warriors on the battlefield. While deployed, she conducted a substantial number of routine patrols, searching and positively identifying weapons caches and improvised explosive devices; swept and cleared routes for the troops; and was involved in fire fights with insurgents. This exposure in the war zone environment and to other traumatic events led to Summer being diagnosed with canine PTSD in December 2015. In May 2018, Staff Sergeant Summer received the Lois Pope K-9 Medal of Courage for demonstrating exceptional valor and service to her country. Additionally, in July 2017, she received the PDSA Commendation Award for her unparalleled devotion and enrichment brought to the lives of all who served with her. Summer wears her Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Ribbon, and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Ribbon on her vest every day, proudly displaying that she served with the United States Armed Forces. Currently, Staff Sergeant Summer and Sergeant Micah Jones, USAF (Ret.) are a TSA K-9 team for the Amtrak Police Department at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
- Sgt. Yeager (Cary, NC) – Sergeant Yeager honorably performed combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Improvised Explosive Detection Dog with the United States Marine Corps. Sgt. Yeager has been credited with detecting the locations of dozens of explosive devices. During his three combat tours, Sgt. Yeager participated in over 100 patrols, and was tasked with clearing routes for his fellow Marines. On April 12, 2012, Sgt. Yeager suffered shrapnel wounds from an IED that caused him to lose part of his ear. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries. Unfortunately, the same explosion took the life of his handler, Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe. The pair was virtuously trying to protect the other Marines in the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Fellow Marines attest to the unbreakable bond between Tarwoe and Sgt. Yeager. After the attack, Sgt. Yeager was transported back to the U.S. and treated for his injuries until he was stable enough to retire from the USMC. Lance Corporal Tarwoe's widow was unable to adopt Sgt. Yeager as she would now be raising their infant son alone. Sgt. Yeager was adopted by another Marine Corps family. Today, at 12 years of age, Sgt. Yeager is beginning to show signs of aging, though his spirit is undiminished. Despite his trials and witnessing acts of terrorism, Yeager remains a sweet dog with an infinitely joyful disposition. He has settled in North Carolina with his family, where he is an ambassador for the Project K-9 Hero Foundation, which pays 100% of his medical bills from his sustained injuries.
- Rek (Hendersonville, TN) – Rek worked in Afghanistan for five years with civilian companies, searching vehicles for any explosive materials for military bases. He was trained in explosives, narcotics and attack. He always gave his all when doing his job.
Search and Rescue Dogs category (sponsored by Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food)
- Piglet (Lancaster, CA) – Piglet is the best friend of Winnie The Pooh. But there's another "Piglet" in town: an eight-year-old Catahoula Leopard Dog. This Piglet, a veteran search and rescue dog, is trained and certified to help families in arduous times. Nothing could have prepared Piglet and handler Lori Wells for the inconceivable conditions on a recent deployment. Called to aid in the aftermath of the horrific "Camp Fire" in Paradise, California, this little dog deployed to do all she could to help. Piglet provides a vital service. The value of her work in bringing answers to grieving families is immeasurable. She assists in locating people on land and in water. Once, human searchers spent seven days combing a lake with no luck. On day eight, Piglet deployed and located the subject. She helped the coroner by locating enough bones to reconstruct and positively identify the individual. Lori and Piglet donate hundreds of volunteer hours annually and depart for each call-out with enthusiasm. Traveling thousands of miles a year does not diminish Piglet's bubbly personality and happy-go-lucky attitude. In her off hours, she loves making friends. At events she's always a crowd-pleaser with a wagging tail, signature "smile," and endless kisses. Perhaps this is what makes Piglet a unique search and rescue dog. Her famous namesake's creator was said to have shared advice appropriate for those survivors who this dedicated K9 helps reunite: "If there ever comes a time when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever."
- Koop'R (Laurel, MD) – Abandoned in the summer of 2013, Koop'R was a scrawny little thing when he was rescued and began training in wilderness search and rescue. He quickly picked up his new job, earning his first national certification in 2015. While he continued training with the KlaasKids Search Center, he also furthered his service to the community by being not only an ambassador for his breed but also working to further autism awareness. He always spent a little bit more time with his special fans and became the unofficial "spokedog" for Steps for Autism, a grassroots autism awareness event in Pensacola, Florida. Almost exactly four years after he was adopted, Koop'R went from being the rescued to the rescuer; he was a part of the team that found an 84-year-old woman with dementia who had walked away from her home in Daphne, Alabama. Although she had a sprained ankle and was dehydrated, she was otherwise in good condition. In 2018 Koop'R faced a huge change as his family moved to Maryland on military orders. It was difficult at first to find a new team as a few teams had breed restrictions and others were just not a good fit, but eventually Koop'R found a new home with the Calvert K9 Search Team. In February 2019, on his first mission in Maryland, Koop'R found an elderly woman who suffered from dementia and had wandered away from her home in Bowie, Maryland. The search had been going for almost six hours when Koop'R made the find. He might have started life as a rescue, but now Koop'R the one who does the rescuing!
- Charlotte (Ashland, PA) – Charlotte is a wonderfully good-natured little dog who was brought into this world for a purpose. She was the only survivor of her litter after a terrible situation and her mother had to be euthanized. I got her when she was a mere three weeks old and knew that this little girl was going to make a difference in the world. She caught on quickly to the tasks presented to a search dog. She's now been deployed on a few searches, and twice she's gotten me extremely close to our missing persons before another team found them. During our last search, she was headed down the alley towards then we got a call on the radio stating the police officer had found him. Little Charlotte was going in the right direction and only two blocks away! Even when she's not working, Charlotte brings much joy to all. She loves to kiss and snuggle. She has made several appearances at the local nursing home. She is also a Canine Good Citizen. One day, Charlotte will make an even bigger change to someone's life, but for now, we are just grateful that each person is found.
Service Dogs category (sponsored by Lulu's Fund)
- Sampson (Foosland, IL) – In 2006, an accident left me with 23 broken bones and a Traumatic Brain Injury. A survivor of childhood abuse and an 18-year abusive marriage, I had invisible scars made worse by the darkness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I lost everything that had meaning until I met Sampson through Paws Giving Independence. With his "This is the best day ever" attitude, instead of choosing suicide, I went to college to study neuroscience, hoping to help others with PTSD/TBI. Sam has been my strength as a service dog in a field filled with barriers. He is the first service dog to gain access to most academic and research laboratories at the University of Illinois. With Sam as the ambassador for service dogs in academia, we have promoted policy change nationwide, stood up to discrimination, bureaucracy, and closed-door committees on university campuses, spoken to dozens of organizations, brought international attention to help end discrimination in academia, taken legal steps to end disability discrimination in science, gained the support of international biosecurity officials, assisted in the development of training protocols for university faculty on service dog etiquette, and helped develop a non-profit organization to assist scientists with disabilities: International Alliance for Ability in Science. Sam and I have work ahead of us. One paw print at a time, walking with the canine miracle that saved my life, I can look behind us now without seeing only ghosts and shadows. I see positive change.
- Banner (Menlo, GA) – Banner is a medical/psychiatric service dog. She started her journey at eight weeks old and we have trained long and hard to get to where we are today. I have a few disabilities that made me look into getting a service dog to help since I have a high tolerance for medication. She also is an advocate against breed discrimination in the service dog world, showing that any breed CAN be a service dog. My Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is from childhood physical, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence from a past marriage. I couldn't handle crowds, going to the grocery store was terrifying, and I couldn't go to my kids' school functions due to the anxiety and PTSD episodes. Banner gave me freedom. Banner gave me confidence. I'm able to live a semi-normal existence now and I don't have to have another human accompany me on errands. I was even able to start going to comic conventions, which is something I NEVER thought I could enjoy! Sometimes there are things we can't say to other humans out of fear of being locked away due to toxic thoughts. I've survived suicide. Banner doesn't judge me. She's always there for me, an anchor to reality, trying to keep me in this world instead of my painful memories. I think she deserves this. She deserves everything. No one would suspect that she's a daily hero.
- Alice (Nicholasville, KY) – In 2015, Antonio was a normal, playful nine-year old who loved soccer and his friends. Then, on a normal day, while riding in the back of his parents' SUV with his younger brothers on the way to a family dinner, a man fired three to five bullets into their car and shot him in the head. Since that day Antonio has been fighting the battle of a lifetime. He spent 18 days in a coma and has endured five brain surgeries. Nearly four years later, an artificial skull covers half of Antonio's brain, because a seizure causing a fall could be fatal. Antonio not only battles seizures, but migraines, balance issues, spells and more. In October of 2016, Antonio was paired with his service dog, Alice, from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs in Florida. His mom, Tara, says, "Alice is a hero in our eyes, because without her, Antonio would not be able to do the simple things in life that we take for granted." Going to school, the store, or even just a walk outside would be impossible for him. Never once has Alice failed to alert to an oncoming seizure or "spell" and she assists him with his balance issues. Alice has given Antonio the chance at a new normal life he couldn't have had without her. She is a loyal and loving hero every day. She's saved Antonio's life many times. If that's not a hero, I don't know what is. She is his guardian angel and helps him live his new normal to the fullest extent possible.
Therapy Dogs category
- Jeanie (Lake Charles, LA) – This three-legged rescue went from being homeless and crippled to becoming a certified therapy dog. Jeanie was rescued from a rural area in south Louisiana when she was five months old and was adopted after a deformed front leg was removed by a local vet. Jeanie works for the Children's Advocacy Center, where she comforts children who are questioned by detectives working on 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 attends counseling sessions with amputees and children's grief therapy groups. She comforts students during finals week and visits schools' special education classes. 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. A depressed veterans' home resident who suffered with dementia was joyful and content during a visit with Jeanie. In cases like these, Jeanie's presence eases stress levels and provides a calm and joyful diversion. Jeanie deserves to be the American Hero Dog because she gives love and comfort to those who need it most, especially frightened and traumatized children. She hopes to inspire other counseling, advocacy and law enforcement agencies to consider the benefits of therapy dogs like her.
- Bandit (St. Robert, MO) – Bandit is a seven-year-old Great Dane rescued as a puppy, moments before being euthanized due to health concerns. From the day he was rescued, he has endured surgeries, leaving him with two plates and 20 screws in each of his hind legs. He still walks around with a front paw deformity. His deformities and surgeries have helped give strength to our nation's heroes as his strength and endurance have helped show others that they can also overcome anything and achieve the impossible just as he did. For the last six years has been an official therapy dog for the USO of Missouri, Inc., helping our wounded warriors learn how to walk again by being their support when needed the most. He has escorted children and been their rock during the burial of their military service family members and he helps others remember what unconditional love is through his work with our military on suicide watch. Bandit helps show children with their own deformities that it is okay to be different. From sitting with a child to being their support during trial, or helping our nations heroes through every stage of their life, Bandit has proven there is no one with a bigger heart, and has upheld his name, "Bandit," stealing hearts all over the world. He truly shows the world what can happen when you give a rescue a chance: They can change the world and save lives with just one simple act of kindness.
- Kaxan (Austin, TX) – On May 19, 2012, I was running in an alley behind the KXAN Austin news studio. I was dirty, skinny, homeless, and didn't know where to go. The kind folks at KXAN took me in and nicknamed me "Kaxan." The news team saw something special in me and I became their KXAN Austin News official mascot. Then I really struck gold! Jim Spencer, the top dog meteorologist at KXAN, adopted me! I have to admit that I didn't have the best manners, so Edward Flores, a super amazing dog trainer, showed me how to be a good canine citizen. Edward and I became best friends. He was so patient with me and pretty soon, I passed my first therapy dog test! Whew, that's when things really took off….I became an official therapy dog with Divine Canines. Edward and I visit Fort Hoodsoldiers who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and war injuries, patients at hospitals, special-needs kids, and seniors at assisted living homes. I'm part of Barking Book Buddies, a reading program for kids with dyslexia. I also visit students during finals week at the University of Texas and Texas State University. I've appeared on KXAN with Jim promoting dog rescue and events. I've been a judge for Barkitecture, a celebrity painter for Puppy Mill Awareness Day, and even been on some national TV commercials. I've helped raise over $20,000 in donations for non-profits. My early years were tough but that's all in the past. I'm living proof that if you give a rescue dog a chance, you'll be amazed at what you can do together.