My Pet World: Heroic dogs highlighted in online contest

If you have a dog, there's no doubt your best friend is a hero to you. But some dogs' heroic exploits are downright amazing.

Heroic canines and their accomplishments will be celebrated October 1 in Los Angeles at the American Humane Assn. Hero Dog Awards (sponsored by Cesar brand dog food). Finalists will walk the red carpet (plastic bags provided) at the star-studded event.

Starting in June, members of the public can go online and vote for their favorite candidates in eight categories: Search-and-Rescue Dogs, Guide Dogs. Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Hearing Dogs (who signal people who are hearing impaired), Military Working Dogs, Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs, and Emerging Hero Dogs.

Here's a warning: Reading the hero dog stories may require tissue.

For example, Bud is a service dog from Union City, Calif.

"I was in a near fatal car accident," said the contest entrant. "I was in an induced coma for two months. My brain injuries caused me to have seizures. In 2001, I got a Bull Mastiff puppy (Bud), and over the years he seemed to know when I was going to have a seizure. His normal calm nature would change, he would whine and scratch at me, and soon after I'd have a seizure. I don't know how he knows, but I'm grateful. Bud is my pal, confidant and savior. I can now live my life the way I used to."

Another service dog, named Johnny, from Phoenix, alerted her owner to a fire, perhaps saving her life.

It can be tough for a young teenager to pay attention, but Muggs, another service dog, has A.J. covered. Whenever A.J., from Peoria, Ill., slips toward a diabetic low, Muggs warns him.

Under the category of Law Enforcement/Arson Dog, Sadie, of Westminster, Colo., has sniffed for evidence following 400 fires. Her body of work has led to many arson arrests.

"Sadie has worked in extreme environments (high rise buildings to mountains) and never missed a call to duty," the entrant wrote.

Sadie also conducts about 50 K-9 demonstrations a year to promote fire safety and prevention.

Steven, a wounded veteran in Friendswood, Texas, says his dog, Sonny, provides balance support and guide dog (or seeing eye dog) assistance. Those who know Steven give equal credit to medical science and Sonny for Steven's remarkable progress.

In Plano, Texas, Mr. Bojangles is a Bloodhound with an impressive resume, beginning with finding several wandering Alzheimer's victims. He's also helped police nab suspected murderers, not once but twice.

When a taxi driver was found murdered and the cab was dumped about a mile from the crime scene, Mr. Bojangles picked up the perpetrator's scent from the car's steering wheel and trailed the suspect for nearly two miles. When a woman was found stabbed to death, Mr. Bojangles was taken to the fence which the suspected attacker jumped over to escape. Again with just a few sniffs, he was able to find the killers. Both murderers are now behind bars serving life sentences thanks to the heroic pooch.

Chef H067, a Military Working Dog, is a retired Navy explosives detection and patrol dog. He served two combat tours in Iraq, one tour in Africa, and assisted in numerous Secret Service missions during his active duty career.

Now retired from active service, he continues to visit hospitalized veterans. Many are Vietnam vets, some of whom have opened up to Chef H067 for the first time as a result of finding a non-judgmental listener.

Victoria Stilwell, from Animal Planet's "It's Me or the Dog," is a national ambassador for the American Humane Assn. and among the judges for the Hero Dog Awards. In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, Stilwell helped arrange for "comfort dogs" who accompanied families on boats that passed by the site of the World Trade Center so loved ones could toss wreaths or flowers into the river. During one trip, a little boy lay side by side with a Cocker Spaniel, contentedly hugging the dog.

"I can still picture that boy's mom, who told me it was her boy's first smile since his dad had died," says Stilwell. "Yes, we definitely need to recognize these dogs. They are heroes. Dogs give us so much."

Other celebrity judges include Whoopi Goldberg, Fabio Viviani (from TV's "Top Chef") actor Orlando Brown (Disney Channel), plus others still to be announced.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the powerful relationship between dogs and people," says Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Assn. "The Hero Dog Awards are about elevating the status of animals in society by celebrating our relationships in the world we share."

EDITOR'S NOTE: In full disclosure, Steve Dale serves on the board of American Human Assn.

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