Five Heroic Dogs Honored with 2020 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE)

The AKC® Humane Fund is proud to announce the winners of the 21st annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These awards celebrate five loyal, hard-working dogs that have significantly improved the lives of their owners and communities. The five winners were carefully chosen from a pool of more than 800 impressive nominations. The winners and finalists were featured on an AKC.tv special, which aired November 30th-December 4th. All five episodes are now available on demand on AKC.tv.

One award is presented in each of the following five categories: Uniformed Service K-9, Therapy, Service, Search and Rescue and Exemplary Companion dog. This year’s winners range from a Flat-Coated Retriever that excels at dock diving despite missing a paw, to a search and rescue dog who sniffed out human remains dating back to 670 A.D.

“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. “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.”

The 2020 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence are proudly sponsored by Eukanuba™. Each ACE recipient will receive $1,000 to be awarded to a pet-related charity of their choice, a one-year supply of Eukanuba premium dog nutrition, and an engraved sterling silver medallion.

“The heroic canines who are receiving the ACE awards this year have gone above and beyond the call of duty: comforting the ill, providing therapeutic support to those in need and reminding us of the powerful bond between animals and dogs,”  said Jason Taylor, National PRO Sales Director for Eukanuba. “As a brand truly passionate about supporting extraordinary dogs, Eukanuba is honored to recognize these heroic dogs and provide premium nutrition to help fuel them in their continued service to others.”

This year’s ACE winners are:

Uniformed Service K-9: “Stella,” a Bloodhound handled by Paul Coley of Tallahassee, Florida

“K-9 Stella” is a three-year-old Bloodhound working for the Tallahassee Police Department Special Victims Unit as a Scent Evidence K-9 with her handler, Paul Coley, CEO of Scent Evidence K-9 and former FBI Forensic Canine Operations Specialist. Stella and Coley have been working cases for their department as well as several federal, state, and local agencies for the past two years.

Along with her handler, Stella has worked multiple missing persons cases involving people affected with Alzheimer’s or Dementia wandering off. Stella has an impressive record of confirmed trails leading to the recovery of missing persons in the Florida panhandle. In addition to her work bringing missing persons home, Stella is an essential resource for the Tallahassee Police Department Special Victims Unit, assisting with several criminal apprehensions and is even credited with the apprehension of two double homicide suspects.

When Stella is not busy reuniting missing persons with their families, she is often alongside Coley, traveling throughout Florida to educate communities on how her nose can help responders locate people, should they go missing. They discuss how to protect people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD) who are at high risk of wandering. Stella also recently participated in Coley’s “On the Trail for the Cure” fundraiser campaign for the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event.

Stella is an important resource for her Police department and her community and will continue her mission to create safer communities as part of the Bringing The Lost Home Project, a bill that was recently passed by Florida legislators to enhance missing person response capabilities in law enforcement, particularly with Florida’s large elderly population with Alzheimer’s.

Therapy Dog: “Monson,” a Dalmatian owned by Melissa MacWilliams of Buxton, Maine

“Monson,” officially known as CH Yankee Sebago & Patch Mt Miles To Go Monson CGCU, BN, RA, TDIAOV, THDX, TKP, OAP, OJP, NFP, CC, RD is a nine-year-old Dalmatian owned by Melissa MacWilliams of Buxton, ME. Monson has competed in various AKC sports, including Conformation, Agility, Rally, and Obedience, but his work as a therapy dog is where he truly stands out.

As part of his extensive list of therapy work, Monson visits a teen shelter to provide love and comfort to homeless adolescents struggling with mental illness, abuse, addiction, PTSD, and gender identity. Monson also provides comfort at an organization for adults who are transitioning from homelessness and struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues.

Additionally, Monson and Melissa visit a local nursing home every week and provide comfort at local schools. The therapy team visits Universities to offer stress relief for students during exam weeks, participates in a reading program at a middle school and visits a high school to provide a welcome break for students who are stressed or upset. When the COVID-19 pandemic halted his in-person visits, 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.

Service Dog: “Luke,” a Labrador Retriever owned by Ryan Garrison of Beavercreek, Ohio      

“Luke,” a six-year-old Labrador Retriever, serves as a mobility service dog for his owner, Ryan Garrison of Beavercreek, OH. Garrison enlisted in the U.S. Air Force immediately following the September 11th attacks on the twin towers and was severely injured while deployed in Iraq in 2006. His injuries included fractured and torn disks in his back, which have resulted in numerous surgeries, chronic pain and anxiety.

Luke was paired with Ryan as his mobility service dog in 2016 through the nonprofit organization, Warrior Canine Connection (WCC). Luke not only helps Garrison with his mobility and everyday tasks, but since being paired with him, Garrison has been able to better control his anxiety and has even decreased his need for medication. Even more importantly, Ryan 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 2020 Ryan and his son were involved in a rollover vehicle crash, which triggered flashbacks of his incident in Iraq. 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. Even during such a traumatic incident, Luke followed his training and put comforting his owner ahead of anything else.

The experience with the incident earlier this year has inspired Ryan’s next challenge, Valor Therapeutics, a nonprofit he and his wife are launching to serve active duty Veterans and first responders in Dayton, OH and the surrounding area. They plan to provide alternative forms of therapy to individuals who’ve seen and experienced traumatic life events.

Search and Rescue Dog: “Shiraz,” a Belgian Malinois owned and handled by Susan Goodhope of Havana, Florida

“Shiraz,” officially known as CH Bord du Lac Shiraz CDX ROM1, is a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois, certified as a Human Remains Detection Dog by the National Network of Canine Detection Services. She is a highly acclaimed search and rescue dog working with her owner and handler, Susan Goodhope of Havana, FL.

In her storied career spanning over a decade, Shiraz has taken part in over seventy searches throughout the southeast, including forensic, archaeological, and historic searches. In 2013, Shiraz was tasked with locating a Native American burial mound that was referenced in a publication after Archaeologists were unable to locate it for eight years. After searching for an hour in an overgrown, wooded area, Shiraz gave the indication that she detected human remains. A meter underground from where she indicated, a human toe bone was discovered, and radiocarbon dated all the way back to 670 A.D.

Along with her handler, Shiraz has also assisted in locating unmarked graves for communities, churches and families as well as those of slaves, who were buried in poorly marked areas on plantations. She assisted in the location of 900 graves in the Flipper Cemetery in Thomasville, Georgia, which has since been marked and restored. 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 search and rescue work that Shiraz has accomplished has not gone unnoticed – she has been commended by the US Department of the Interior, given a Distinguished Achievement Award by the Florida Bar and a Registry of Merit from the ABMC. She has also been featured in countless newspapers, including the New York Times.

Exemplary Companion Dog: “Tara,” a Flat-Coated Retriever owned by Mary Pat Corrigan of Flint Hill, Virginia

“Tara,” is a four-year-old Flat-Coated Retriever owned by Mary Pat Corrigan of Flint Hill, VA. Born into an elite family, Tara’s mother won her breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the AKC National Championship and the Flat-Coated Retriever National Specialty. But, when Tara was born with a short right front leg and no paw, she was not expected to survive.

Tara not only survived, but persevered, becoming a superior athlete in dock diving. Currently, she is nationally ranked as the #3 Flat-Coated Retriever in Air Retrieve and #6 in her breed in Distance. She has also already qualified for Distance at the North American Diving Dogs (NADD) Nationals this year.

In 2019, Tara became an honorary Adaptive Athlete member of a cycling team, Pedallers for the Wounded, hosted by the nonprofit, World T.E.A.M. Sports. This team, along with over 400 other cyclists, participate in a 2-day, 112-mile cycling challenge. The challenge benefits the Wounded Warrior Project, and Tara was the #3 fundraiser in last year’s event. When Tara is competing, she is an intense competitor, often moving onlookers to tears, but off the dock, she is sweet-tempered, playful and happy.

By Samantha Seymour

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