HOLLYWOOD — The American Humane Assn. celebrated ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things at the Hero Dog Awards, presented by Cesar Canine Cuisine on Oct. 3 at the Hollywood Hilton.
The gala event was taped for TV broadcast Nov. 11 on the Hallmark Channel, hosted by Carson Kressley. Guest presenters included Peter Fonda, Faith Ford, Joey Lawrence, Pauley Perrette, Megyn Price, Mickey Rooney, Michael Vartan, Betty White and others.
Dogs were judged in eight categories: Law Enforcement/Arson Dog, Service Dog, Therapy Dog, Military Working Dog, Guide Dog, Search and Rescue Dog, Hearing Dog and Emerging Hero Dog. In addition, Rin Tin Tin was honored with the first ever American Humane Assn. Hero Dog Legacy Award.
During a nationwide six-month search for hero dogs, hundreds of canines from all 50 states were nominated and some 400,000 votes were cast, culminating in the selection of the eight extraordinary canine finalists. That's where a panel of celebrity and expert judges took over, including Whoopi Goldberg, Orlando Brown, Kristin Chenoweth, Susan Orlean (author of "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend"), all overseen by dog trainer Victoria Stilwell of "It's Me or the Dog" on Animal Planet.
Each of the eight winning dogs walked the red carpet with dozens of paparazzi shooting photos and video.
"I felt like a Hollywood celebrity," said Dione Luper, of Des Plaines, Ill.
In 2004, Zurich was partnered as a service dog with Luper's wife, Patricia Kennedy, who'd been diagnosed with a degenerative and fatal brain-stem disease called OPCA (olivopontocerebellar atrophy). There wasn't a dry eye in the house because Patricia was on stage when Dione accepted the award.
Dione said he felt confident saying that if not for Zurich, his wife would simply no longer be alive, and that Zurich manages to support her quality of life by making her laugh. Patricia is no longer able to talk, but she can smile.
Later, Dione said that Patricia was hesitant about traveling from the Chicago area to Hollywood, and appearing on stage. "But she really enjoyed it."
Among the tributes during the broadcast, Peter Fonda introduced a video piece on the search-and-rescue dogs who worked at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Then Michael Hingson appeared, and told his story. His Guide Dog Award winner, Roselle, led him down 78 stories and 1,463 stairs from Tower One of the World Trade Center. Sadly, Roselle, passed away this summer.
Debbie Kandoll, of Atlanta, Ga., read a touching poem on stage, reflecting the true heroics of Military Working Dogs. She made a point of saying that MWD Bino C152 was one of many, many dogs that could just as easily have been honored. "Each military working dog is credited with saving a minimum of 150 people in a career," she noted.
Bino served the U.S. Army's 35th Military Police Dog Detachment at Ft. Gordon, Ga., as a Narcotics Detection/Patrol K-9 for nearly 11 years. He was also deployed in Iraq for over a year and served as a U.S. Border Patrol Dog.
Kandoll explained off-stage that the U.S. military still doesn't have a clear plan for many of its working dogs. While some are lucky enough to be adopted by their military handlers, or at least be adopted by a civilian, others are not so lucky. "Is this any way to treat those who have served our nation?" she asked." To look at these dogs and think of them as excess equipment is heartbreaking."
Among the many special moments on-stage, philanthropist Lois Pope announced a surprise $1 million gift to American Humane, and introduced the Hero Dog Awards Grand Marshall, Atticus, and his owner, Vietnam War vet Jim Hogan.
"I've been all over the world," Hogan said. "I doubt that I would have been able to travel as extensively, or at least have as much fun, if it wasn't for Atticus."
During a trip to Rome, the pair navigated the Spanish Steps, the Coliseum, and other destinations, which aren't all too accessible. Hogan says his dog's favorite U.S. tourist stop is Disneyland, especially enjoying It's A Small World.
Aside from being visually impaired, Hogan also suffers from a severe hearing loss.
"Atticus still amazes me," he said. "He cares for me 24/7. If I get up early Atticus is ready to go, I can't say the same for my wife."
Pam, Jim's wife, added, "It's important for any person to maintain a sense of self, a sense of dignity and a sense of independence; that is Atticus' gift to Jim."
"Every day, across America, dogs protect, comfort, and give their unconditional friendship and affection to the ill, the infirm, the wounded veteran, and the frightened child," said Robin Ganzert, president and chief executive of the AHA.
"It was time to recognize the contributions of man's best friends and celebrate the heroic feats they have performed for us every day. Every dog nominated is a bona fide hero."
Of course, many of the people attending were heroes, as well.
Perrette, who appears on "NCIS," said afterward, "There was only one problem with this event — we needed more tissue."
For more behind-the-scenes action and images, check my blog: http://www.chicagonow.com/steve-dales-pet-world/2011/10/hooray-for-american-humane-association-hero-dog-awards-in-hollywood/
Full disclosure: Steve Dale is on the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association, and was the announcer for the TV broadcast.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times