LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, October 20, 2020 — Based on more than a million votes by the American public and the deliberations of a panel of celebrity animal lovers and dog experts, MacKenzie, a Chihuahua who weighs only four pounds but gives away tons of love, has been named the country’s most heroic canine, besting 407 other competitors across the country and capturing the top title at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards®: 10th Anniversary Celebration, which was broadcast nationwide last night on Hallmark Channel.
“The American Humane Hero Dog Awards were created to honor some of the world’s most extraordinary heroes,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization. “These heroic canines have gone above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives on the battlefield, comforting the ill and aged, and reminding us of the powerful, age-old bond between animals and people. All seven category winners exemplify what it means to be a hero, and we hope that their stories–including MacKenzie’s–will inspire people to value our animal friends and recognize how much they do for us every day.”
Born with a cleft palate and contracting aspiration pneumonia which nearly took her life, this rescue dog epitomizes what it means to be a hero, overcoming her birth defect and going on to help hundreds of other rescue animals and provide children with world-changing lessons in empathy. Her job is to provide love and care for baby rescue animals born with birth defects. Most of the rescued animals are babies who cannot stay with their mothers because of their medical problems. MacKenzie takes an interest in each baby from day one, no matter the species or size. She plays nurse and cleans, comforts, and cuddles them. She acts as their mother and teaches them how to socialize, play, and have good manners. It’s been said that MacKenzie could mother anything from an ant to an elephant, nurturing countless puppies, kittens, a goat, a turkey, a squirrel, birds, a mouse, and despite her tiny size, even a Great Dane. MacKenzie’s other important role is to interact with children at schools, so they learn to be open-minded toward animals and people with physical differences. They learn kindness, patience, and that you can make a difference in the world no matter how small you are. MacKenzie may have lost her ability to bark, but she still makes herself heard and speaks for other animals born with defects and she is a shining example of how rescuing animals often helps save more than just one life.
For her extraordinary good works, MacKenzie, who comes from Hilton, New York, first won the top title in her individual category, becoming the country’s Hero Shelter Dog of the Year, and then in the last round winning the American Humane Hero Dog Awards’ top title of 2020’s American Hero Dog.
The star-studded, nationally broadcast awards were hosted last night by television personality, actor and designer Carson Kressley, accompanied by a galaxy of celebrity stars and presenters including All-for-One, Mayim Bialik, AJ Buckley, Kristin Chenoweth, Erik Estrada, Danielle Fishel, Vivica A. Fox, Lizzy Greene, Jack Hanna, Faithe Herman, Naomi Judd, Keltie Knight, General Spider Marks (Ret.), Richard Marx, Debbie Matenopoulos, Cameron Mathison, Barbara Niven, Ross Mathews, John Ondrasik, Melissa Rivers, Marcus Scribner, Alison Sweeney and Ariel Winter. Grammy-winning singer Lisa Loeb performed, and Larissa Wohl and Nick and Joanna Swisher presented a special award to Lance Bass for his humane efforts.
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 program was aired as part of Hallmark Channel’s cross-platform advocacy campaign designed to celebrate the joy and enrichment animals bring to our lives. During American Humane’s annual “Adopt-a-Dog Month” this October, the organization teamed up with Hallmark Channel’s “Adoption Ever After” campaign to help get more of the millions of beautiful animals left in shelters each year into forever homes.
The final winner is chosen through public voting after passing through previous rounds in which candidates must prevail through a combination of public votes and voting by a panel of animal advocates and celebrity judges, including Jamie Chung, Erik Estrada, Danielle Fishel, Daniel Henney, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Marcus Scribner, Alexa and Carlos PenaVega and Ariel Winter .
All Finalists Are Winners
MacKenzie was the one chosen as 2020 American Hero Dog, but all seven finalists were the nation’s top winners in their categories, and we salute them for their courage, service and compassion. Here are their official nominations, as told by their handlers and owners:
2020 Therapy Dog of the Year (category sponsored by World Pet Association)
Olive (Jefferson City, Missouri) – From hopeless and homeless to living her purpose, Olive was rescued from the streets of Los Angeles by Brandon McMillan, host and animal trainer of the Emmy Award-winning CBS show, Lucky Dog. Lisa Groves Bax, a child advocate volunteer for abused/neglected children in the judicial system in Missouri, saw the need for a resource to assist the scores of children facing the daunting task of appearing or testifying in court. After extensive training with Brandon McMillan, Olive was united with her forever family in Missouri, and ready to live her purpose as a certified therapy dog. Olive was tested and evaluated by Therapy Dogs International (TDI). Through no fault of their own, vulnerable children are facing unknown proceedings because an adult failed to care properly for them. Olive’s mission is to make sure that no child walks alone through the courtroom doors, and provides comfort throughout the unknown journey that the child faces against their abuser or neglecting adult, which in most cases is their very own parents. Olive has served more than 300 children since beginning in the court system in 2016, and continues to assist children with extremely difficult criminal trials in order to get a conviction against the abusers. Olive is an American Hero Dog to the children she serves and deserves to add this title to her endless endeavors advocating for the awareness of child abuse/neglect and serving children in the courtroom.
2020 Service Dog of the Year (category sponsored by Lulu’s Fund)
Dolly Pawton (Naples, Maine) – Dolly Pawton is my cardiac alert dog, trained to alert if my blood pressure drops or heart rate rises to an unsafe level. Being confined to a wheelchair due to multiple medical conditions has been difficult, to say the least. At times, my body will physically not allow me to do everyday tasks. I try to remain as active as my body will allow. With Dolly’s help I am able to do that. Before having a service dog, I went out very little but Dolly changed that. She helps me to function without having to depend on others. Dolly helps in every aspect of my life, including reducing my social anxiety. I was a victim of domestic violence which caused PTSD. I struggled to get out of bed not just because of my health but because my self-confidence was horrible. Because of my fears, it was much easier and safer for me to stay home. People have no idea the pain I was in before Dolly. Living with so many medical issues along with PTSD takes a real toll on me both physically and emotionally. I wake up with nightmares, terrified to go back to bed but now I have Dolly right by my side to keep me safe. Dolly gave me the self-confidence and inspiration to write and illustrate a children’s book called Pawsibly the Best Medicine. It is a biography of Dolly told with a bit of humorous fiction. We bring her book to schools to educate children about service dogs. She is truly my most crucial medical equipment with a loving, beating heart. I don’t know what I would do without her in my life and she is my hero.
2020 Military Dog of the Year
Blue ll P491 (Lawrenceville, Georgia) – Blue served our country valiantly from 2011 to 2018. I served as her first handler on my second deployment to Afghanistan, which was her first deployment as an Improvised Explosive Device Detector Dog. While deployed, Blue and I went on over 300 combat missions. She found many IEDs, saving me, along with many Marines and Sailors during our deployment. Once we parted ways, I vowed to find her and adopt her one day. Six years later, she came up for review on her disposition while she was stationed in Okinawa, Japan where she served as an SSD. After seven years of honorable service, she retired in November 2018 and made her way from Japan to Georgia. She’s been enjoying her retirement with my family and me ever since. Blue is our own personal hero and deserves to be recognized as one in her life.
2020 Guide/Hearing Dog of the Year
Aura (Brunswick, Maine) – Aura is a trained hearing service dog. She became my ears after I lost my hearing in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. I was in despair after my injuries. I needed a helper. What I received was a fur guardian angel. She has restored my independence. I went from being a blown-up deaf person to a person who now feels safe and secure in the world. She never has a day off and I rely on her to keep me safe. She provides me with the confidence I need to interact in the world. She has allowed me to pursue my passions and purpose in life. I have no regrets about losing my hearing, I would trade my ears for Aura any day. She is happy to work for me, displaying undying loyalty. She knows I am deaf but loves me anyway. Always by my side, head up and ready for anything. She is my hope. I am forever grateful to her. There is not a medication or a therapy that could do for me what Aura does for me every day. The photograph of Aura was taken on the very first day I received her. I immediately felt her love flow through her leash right into my heart. She looks at me like I am the best person in the world. We hope to continue to be ambassadors for people with hearing loss. She has changed how I see and feel about the world. Aura is the epitome of a hero, putting others before herself, ensuring my safety over hers, and providing her constant service to me, asking nothing in return. We will continue to hike, explore, travel and enjoy all the world has to offer. She is my most sacred companion.
2020 Law Enforcement Dog of the Year
K-9 Cody (Newport News, Virginia) – K-9 Cody started her career in explosives detection in Iraq, working hard to keep U.S. personnel safe at the U.S. Embassy. K-9 Cody was transferred back to the United States, where she continued her explosives detection career working at the Mall of America. She quickly stood out as a phenomenal K-9, and not just because of her ability to detect explosives, but also because of her calm and loving demeanor. K-9 Cody was transferred to her current position in Virginia, helping to safeguard such places as Busch Gardens and events for the LPGA, NBA, and the Fourth of July parade in Bristol, Rhode Island. She also helps the local agencies with bomb threats. In her off-time, she can be found doing demonstrations at local schools, churches, and festivals. She loves people and loves to say hi by walking up and leaning against their legs so she can enjoy a few scratches behind the ear. One story that sticks out about Cody and her gentle spirit was an incident that happened while she was working at an amusement park doing explosives detection. A young girl, around 8 or 9 years old, was in the park enjoying the day with her family. She was in line for a ride when a service dog bit her on the leg. She was traumatized and scared. Knowing how gentle Cody is, they called her to the aid station. When Cody saw the little girl, she immediately walked over, licked the girl’s hand and then laid at her feet. Almost immediately, the little girl stopped crying, and was soon smiling, thanks to Cody.
2020 Shelter Dog of the Year
MacKenzie (Hilton, New York) – MacKenzie uniquely represents a rescue hero because she went from being a rescue dog to helping hundreds of other rescue dogs. She provides care for baby animals with birth defects and educates people of all ages. On December 31, 2013, an amazing dog named MacKenzie (Kenz for short) was born with a cleft palate. She was tube-fed from day one for almost a year and survived bouts of aspiration pneumonia. I have never seen such a will to live. She was sick, but more concerned with the baby animals at the rescue. At almost one year of age, she had her life-saving cleft palate surgery. She could eat and drink on her own and focus on what she was born to do. Most of the animals that we rescue are babies that can’t stay with their mother due to their medical needs. Kenz takes an interest in each baby from day one, regardless of species or size. She plays nurse and cleans, comforts, and cuddles them. She also acts as their mom and teaches them how to socialize, play, and have good manners. Kenzie’s other important hero role is to interact with children at schools, so they learn to be open-minded toward animals and people with physical differences. They learn kindness, patience, and that you can make a difference in the world no matter how small you are. Kenz also raises awareness about animals with disabilities. She may have lost her ability to bark, but she still makes herself heard and speaks for other animals born with a defect. She’s a shining example of how rescue saves more than just one life.
2020 Search and Rescue Dog of the Year
Remington (Montgomery, Texas) – K9 Remington is more than just a retired search and rescue K9; he is a cancer fighter and survivor, an advocate for retired K9s and for dogs to be in the fire service. Remi was nationally certified in human remains detection and worked many cases across the United States with Special K9s SAR. Remi has spent his entire life fighting for those who could not fight by assisting law enforcement in locating remains or evidence. His deployments range from missing people, cold cases, and Hurricane Harvey. When not on searches, he was at the New Caney Fire Department and later with Navasota Fire Department. He was a constant figure at public relations events, allowing people to learn about search and rescue, as well as fire safety. He brought comfort to firefighters after long shifts and rough calls. On June 19, 2019, Remi was medically retired after unexplained lameness. He was diagnosed with a puerperal nerve sheath tumor. Due to the financial burden, and his low chances of quality of life, euthanasia was advised. That’s when Jason Johnson, of Project K9 Hero, stepped in. He stated, “You let me worry about the money. Your job is to give Remi the fight he deserves.” Doctors with TAMU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital were able to save his life. All vet bills were paid by Project K9 Hero donors. He still has cancer and is now a tripod, but he continues to live his life representing Project K9 Hero at events to raise awareness and funding for other retired K9s. Remi is more than a search dog; he is a HERO!
Nation’s Veterinary Heroes Also Honored
Animals were not the only ones honored last night. Because we all know that behind every hero pet is a hero vet or vet nurse, American Humane also announces each year during the Hero Dog Awards the winners of its nationwide Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards. Dr. Katherine Polak from Boston, Massachusetts was named 2020’s American Hero Veterinarian, and Julie Nettifee of Raleigh, North Carolina, was declared 2020’s American Hero Veterinary Nurse.
“To us, veterinarians and veterinary nurses are heroes and we want to recognize the best of the best,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane president and CEO. “Dr. Polak and Ms. Nettifee are remarkable animal welfare advocates, and we are proud to spotlight their work in aiding the animals living in their communities and beyond. Special thanks go to our friends at Zoetis Petcare for sponsoring this national campaign because we know how committed they are to recognizing the achievements of the veterinary community.”
“We are honored to recognize two outstanding veterinary professionals who go above and beyond to provide essential veterinary care to animals in need across the country and internationally,” said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, Executive Director, Veterinary Professional Services, Zoetis Petcare (a U.S. business unit of Zoetis). “Dr. Katherine Polak has an extraordinary commitment to animal welfare around the global, as well as to improving veterinary training so more animals can be cared for and more lives saved. Similarly, Julie Nettifee demonstrates exceptional care and compassion for the animals she dedicates her life to every day. They are both truly heroes.”
And Thanks to Sponsors
Finally, American Humane recognized those who support the Hero Dog and Hero Vet Awards and made them possible. “We thank the many generous sponsors who have helped shine a light on these heroes,” said Dr. Ganzert. “Our deepest thanks to our broadcast partner Hallmark Channel, Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards sponsor Zoetis Petcare, Therapy Hero Dog sponsor World Pet Association, and Service Hero Dog sponsor Lulu’s Fund. Dogs may be our best friends, but these caring organizations are theirs.”
PHOTO ASSETS (all may be used provided they are credited to American Humane): https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h6tn65837memuvi/AABDlP_NWvmUSThUjzIPTm44a?dl=0
About American Humane
American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization, founded in 1877. For more information, please visit www.americanhumane.org. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter and to inquire about Hero Dog Awards sponsorship opportunities, please email Jill Nizan at [email protected].
About Hallmark Channel
Hallmark Channel, owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc., is Crown Media Family Networks’ flagship 24-hour cable television network. As the country’s leading destination for quality family entertainment, Hallmark Channel delivers on the 100-year legacy of the Hallmark brand. The network features an ambitious lineup of original content, including movies; scripted primetime series; annual pet specials including, “Kitten Bowl” and “American Rescue Dog Show”; and a daily, two-hour lifestyle show, “Home & Family.” Additionally, Hallmark Channel is the exclusive home to world premiere presentations of the acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame franchise. Dedicated to helping viewers celebrate life’s special moments, Hallmark Channel also offers annual holiday programming franchises including “Countdown to Christmas” and many other seasonal offerings. Rounding out the network’s diverse slate are some of television’s most beloved comedies and series, including “The Golden Girls” and “Frasier.”
For more information, please visit www.crownmediapress.com
To visit the network website, please visit www.hallmarkchannel.com
About World Pet Association
Founded in 1950, World Pet Association (WPA) is the pet industry’s oldest nonprofit organization. Based in Southern California, WPA coordinates industry-defining trade shows—SuperZoo, Atlanta Pet Fair & Conference and America’s Family Pet Expo, a consumer pet and pet product expo. Through WPA’s Good Works program, proceeds from these events are funneled back into key industry organizations and nonprofits with the goal of making it easier for pet industry professionals to do business. WPA’s mission is to support the business needs of pet retailers and to promote responsible growth and development of the pet industry by providing thought leadership on consumer and legislative issues; leading efforts in the public sector to inform consumers and ensure safe, healthy lifestyles for all animals; and provide business resources, education, content and services to ensure pet product retailers have the support they need to be competitive. For more information about WPA and industry events, visit www.worldpetassociation.org.
About Lulu’s Fund
Lulu’s Fund, which is part of the Timothy T. Day Foundation, was founded in 2012. Named after the Day’s beloved pug Lulu, Lulu’s Fund continues the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to supporting organizations in the animal rescue community throughout the United States. Organizations that receive support from Lulu’s Fund are primarily those that rescue abused, neglected and abandoned dogs. Their focus is to treat existing medical issues, provide spay and neuter services, place dogs in safe foster homes, and ultimately find forever homes for the animals. For more information about the Foundation, visit www.tdayfoundation.org.