Exceptional canines and veterinary professionals will all get their chance to shine.

By Tracey L. Kelley
February 17, 2021
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Drown dog lays on front of firetruck next to gear
Credit: Courtesy of American Humane

All of us at Daily Paws have mad, mad love for hero animals and take every opportunity to celebrate them! So imagine our delight to learn that American Humane—the country's first national humane organization—not only honors hero dogs every year, but also the endearing efforts of veterinarians and veterinary nurses/technicians.

American Humane (AH), founded in 1877, has spearheaded numerous welfare initiatives to protect animals from abuse and neglect. One program you might be most familiar with is No Animals Were Harmed, which safeguards animal actors in all forms of media. 

Daily Paws asked Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., American Humane's president and CEO, about the inspiration behind the Hero Awards. She shared the inside scoop on why they matter, who can enter, and how to nominate a dog or vet health pro for the 2021 event.

What Are the American Humane Hero Dog Awards?

The American Humane Hero Dog Awards, now in their 11th year, recognize outstanding canines in seven categories: Law Enforcement and Detection, Military, Therapy, Service, Shelter, Search and Rescue, and Guide/Hearing

"Since the beginning of recorded time, dogs have been our best friends, protecting us, guiding us, and giving us their unconditional love," Ganzert says. "We felt it was high-time to recognize the extraordinary—and often heroic—things even ordinary dogs do for us. We created the Hero Dog Awards to seek out and recognize the very best of our best friends." 

Ganzert says nominations for hero dogs come from all 50 states, representing heroes of every breed, shape, color, and size. In 2020 alone, the organization received 408 entries! Ganzert says judges select the hero pooch semi-finalists based on how their story exemplifies the work they've been trained to do, and "how they exceed expectations and perform acts of heroism each day."

Contestants advance through two more rounds, which are determined by a combination of celebrity and public voting. The winners in each category are announced in the fall during a televised gala on the Hallmark Channel.

Remington, the dashing hound pictured with a fire truck above, was the 2020 Search and Rescue Hero Dog. He's also a cancer survivor, and an advocate for dogs in both fire service and retired K-9s. Olive, last year's winner in the Therapy Hero Dog category, was recognized for her work with children suffering abuse and neglect. Ganzert says the pup only weighs four pounds, but that she "gave away tons of love to those in greatest need. It's the size of these heroes' hearts that counts most," she adds.

Ganzert says there are many other hero dogs that have captured her heart over the years, but two that stand out in her memory are Jynx and Willow—two very different dogs who are both making a huge difference in the lives of the people and animals they work with.

Jynx, the Law Enforcement and Detection category winner of 2012, is a hero pooch who desperately worked to try and pull his guardian Sgt. Kyle Pagerly and another officer out of harm's way when a suspect opened fire during a routine warrant delivery. Sadly, 28-year-old Sgt. Pagerly was killed in the line of duty, but if it weren't for the swift, heroic efforts of Jynx, more officers would have lost their lives that night.

Another pup who Ganzert calls out is Willow, the 2018 Emerging Hero winner. This unsuspecting ball of fluff was saved from horrifying abuse at a slaughterhouse in Asia. Ganzert says that Willow's gone on to be one of the world's most effective ambassadors crusading against the dogmeat trade.

While many of the pup's stories are wrought with hardship, their ability to prevail in the most dire of circumstances make them exemplary candidates for the Hero Awards. We can bet the selection process is tough when trying to narrow down the semi-finalists. "I'll admit that reading through the stories of humankind's best friends and their best friends in the veterinary field is an emotional job, but one that's very rewarding," Ganzert says.

Do you know a heroic dog who's doing amazing deeds? Visit the American Humane Hero Dog Awards site to complete the official entry form. But hurry—the entry window for hero dogs closes March 2, 2021. 

What Are the American Humane Hero Vet and Hero Vet Nurse Awards?

Similar to the canine contenders, the vet pros who are recognized for their services to the animal community are another wonderful breed... of people, that is. Seven years ago, the Hero Vet and Hero Vet Nurse Awards award series was launched to showcase the achievements of vet staff. As Ganzert explains: vets and vet nurses are the ones who "work quietly behind the scenes all year round to keep our furred, finned, and feathered friends happy and healthy." It only makes sense that we should honor them, too!

Woman holds dog in arms outdoors
Dr. Patricia Canchola portrait
Left: Julie Nettifee, 2020 Hero Veterinary Nurse makes a difference with every animal she cares for. | Credit: Courtesy of American Humane
Right: Patti Canchola, DVM, the 2017 Hero Veterinarian winner, performs between 3,500–4,500 spay and neuter surgeries every year as a shelter veterinarian. | Credit: Courtesy of American Humane

The Hero Vet and Hero Vet Nurse Awards are open to companion animal professionals as well as those in other areas of vet medicine. In 2020, the organization received 300 nominations in these two categories. Expert judges evaluate submissions based on candidates' "commitment to the betterment of health and well-being of animals, and their dedication to fostering the bond between people and animals in their community," Ganzert says.

2017 Hero Veterinarian winner, Patti Canchola, DVM, is a shelter vet who works tirelessly to help abused, neglected, and mistreated animals. Canchola also runs St. Martin's Well Pet Clinic, a free health clinic for pets of low-income families, and operates a non-profit pet food bank that helps hundreds of families feed their pets every year. A true animal hero in every way!

If you know a vet professional who's doing amazing deeds in your community, you'll want to submit your nominations for the American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse awards before March 24, 2021. After semi-finalists are selected, celebrity and public voting begins. In 2020, human and canine contenders received more than 3 million votes! The winners are announced as part of the fall ceremony, which airs on the Hallmark Channel. We can't wait to see what the submissions have in store for 2021!