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Hero Dog Awards 2021 - Part 1

American Humane Association
Credit American Humane Association
Sobee - Service Dog finalist

The 2021 Hero Dog Awards is seeking to find and recognize dogs who help people in many important ways. Dogs are nominated in one of seven categories: Service Dogs, Law Enforcement and Detection Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Military Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, Guide/Hearing Dogs, and Shelter Dogs.

Credit American Humane Association
K9 Hansel - Arson Detection Dog

The Service Dog category includes animals that are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) other than sight and hearing. Most have received special training.

Law Enforcement dogs include what we often think of as police dogs, animals specially trained to patrol, search buildings, track criminals, and to detect illicit substances, drugs, narcotics, firearms, or explosive devices.  Detection dogs are animals trained to sniff out accelerants that may have been used to start a fire. 


The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards is an annual competition. This year, more than a million votes have been cast online, narrowing the field of several hundred entries down to seven finalists, each in a separate category. Over the next few weeks, I’ll highlight these seven remarkable canines. And you can vote online for your favorite to be named Hero Dog of the Year.

Let’s begin with Sobee, nominated in the Service Dog category. This handsome Boxer mix had been neglected and found herself on the euthanasia short-list in a Georgia animal shelter, when “K9s on the Front Line” spotted her potential. Meanwhile, Jason Howe, a disabled Navy veteran suffering with post traumatic stress disorder had a friend who connected him to Dr. Hagan – who works with “K9s on the Front Line” – and, that’s how Jason the veteran and Sobee the dog saved each other. They met, bonded, trained together, and graduated with flying colors. Five years later, they volunteer with “K9s on the Front Line”, helping match service dogs with other veterans. You can see some great pictures of Sobee on Jason’s Facebook page.

K-9 Hansel, a Bull Terrier (or Pit Bull) is nominated in the Law Enforcement and Detection category. He was a barely-weaned puppy when he, his mom and his sister Gretel, were rescued from a Canadian dog-fighting ring. Later he trained for a year with Throw Away Dogs, a group that rescues “unique” dogs. Then with his handler, firefighter Tyler VanLeer, Hansel went through a 16-week training course to become an arson detection dog, able to identify ignitable liquids like kerosene, diesel and gasoline. In fact, he may be the only Pit Bull arson detection dog in the country.

For more information about the Hero Dog Awards, and the seven finalists competing for this year’s top spot, visit the website at HeroDogAwards.org. While you’re there, cast your vote for the one you think should be America’s next Hero Dog. It’s a great way to celebrate these special animals who make our lives better – and sometimes safer - in so many ways, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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