We can think of no better way to close out this year (bye-bye now!) than by sharing the heroic and loving deeds of these good pups.

By Tracey L. Kelley
December 25, 2020
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Spotted adult dog lays in grass
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

Dogs remind us of the good in the world and how our connection with these and other incredible animals encourages us to be better humans. But tales of heroic, selfless dogs make our eyes swell with tears and our hearts a’splode! The American Kennel Club (AKC) champions the efforts of these furry, big-hearted wonders with the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). Now in its 21st year, the program celebrates five honorable dogs who have “significantly improved the lives of their owners and communities.” 

This year, more than 800 outstanding pups were nominated in five categories: 

  • Uniformed Service K-9
  • Service
  • Search and Rescue
  • Exemplary Companion Dog
  • Therapy

The winners and finalists were featured in an AKC.tv on-demand special in early December. 

“The impact that dogs have on our lives every day is immeasurable, and with so many amazing nominations, it was not easy to select only one in each category,” said Doug Ljungren, president of the AKC Humane Fund, in an AKC press release about the awards. “These five dogs have made substantial differences in the lives of their owners and communities, touching countless hearts along the way. We are honored to be able to recognize their achievements with the ACE awards.”

Let’s meet these dog heroes!

Stella—Uniformed Service K-9

Adult hound on leash in grass
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

A bloodhound handled by Paul Coley of Tallahassee, Fla., Stella is 3 years old and works for the Tallahassee Police Department Special Victims Unit (SVU). She uses her amazing scent tracking abilities to accomplish an important task: finding people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who have wandered off. “Stella has an impressive record of confirmed trails leading to the recovery of missing persons in the Florida panhandle,” the AKC press release stated. “In addition to her work bringing missing persons home, Stella is an essential resource for the SVU, assisting with several criminal apprehensions.”

Stella also travels with Coley throughout Florida. The duo educates communities on how her nose is able to assist responders in locating people that go missing—including how to help protect people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. What a good girl!

Adult black lab service dog with harness sits on indoor football field
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

Luke—Service Dog

A 6 year old Labrador retriever owned by Ryan Garrison of Beavercreek, Ohio, Luke is his mobility service dog. Garrison, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was severely injured while deployed in Iraq. In 2016, the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) paired him with Luke, who helps him with daily tasks and mobility issues. But according to the release, their bond goes much deeper than that. “Garrison has been able to better control his anxiety and has even decreased his need for medication. Even more importantly, he credits Luke with shifting his entire perspective on life, bringing him out of a dark place and giving him a new sense of positivity and happiness.”

In January of 2020, Garrison was in a vehicle rollover accident, which triggered flashbacks of his wartime incident. “Luke gently nudged and pawed at Ryan to pull him out of his anxiety attack. Once they were pulled to safety, Luke calmly walked over to him and took the comfort command position that he was taught at WCC,” the release states. “Even during such a traumatic incident, Luke followed his training and put comforting his owner ahead of anything else.”

Search and rescue adult dog sits in shrubbery
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

Shiraz—Search and Rescue Dog

A Belgian Malinois owned and handled by Susan Goodhope of Havana, Fla., Shiraz is a 12 year old Human Remains Detection Dog certified by the National Network of Canine Detection Services. For more than a decade, she’s traveled throughout the Southeast, participating in more than 70 including archaeological, forensic, and historic searches. Notable successes include a Native American burial mound that archeologists couldn’t locate for eight years. After nosing through an overgrown wooded area for approximately an hour, Shiraz uncovered the first clue that led to its discovery.  

Along with Goodhope, Shiraz performs other search and rescue services by locating unmarked graves for churches, communities, and families, especially those of former slaves. “Over time, as records are lost and simple wooden markers decay, memories fade, but Shiraz’ work in locating these final resting places has given the respect due to those individuals and has brought closure to the families,” the AKC release notes. 

Large black dog relaxes on gravel
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

Tara—Exemplary Companion Dog

A flat-coated retriever owned by Mary Pat Corrigan of Flint Hill, Va., Tara, now 4 years old,  was born with a shortened right front leg that didn’t have a paw. Initially, her owners didn’t think she’d survive, but she exceeded expectations by becoming a happy and playful competitive athlete in the canine sport of dock diving. 

This pup has some impressive talents. She's nationally ranked as the third best flat-coated retriever in Air Retrieve, and the sixth in her breed in the Distance competition. “She has also already qualified for distance at the North American Diving Dogs,” the AKC release says. Last year, she was honored as an adaptive athlete member of the cycling fundraising team, Pedallers for the Wounded. This tripod isn't letting anything slow her down!

Spotted adult dog lays in grass
Credit: Courtesy of American Kennel Club

Monson—Therapy Dog

A 9 year old Dalmatian owned by Melissa MacWilliams of Buxton, Maine, Monson offers comfort and doggie love at numerous locations for people in need. The therapy dog regularly visits a homeless youth shelter, where many teens are struggling with abuse, addiction, and mental health issues. His weekly rounds also include a nursing home and various local schools and universities

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted his in-person visits, the AKC release says that Monson and his owner created videos to stay connected and donated essentials to the school to assist students in need. “Monson has become such a staple at the local high school, he was listed as a staff member in the 2020 yearbook.”

In addition to what we're sure are many pats on the head and treats for being such excellent doggos, each of the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence recipients received a $1,000 donation to their favorite pet-related charity, a one-year supply of Eukanuba dog food, and an engraved medallion. Now there’s a good dog!