One of the qualities I admire most about working dogs is how they approach each day with such enthusiasm. Whether it's the service dog who helps their handler live more independently or the explosives detection dog that saves the lives of everyone in harm's way, these pups give us their all, often without any thanks.
The American Humane Hero Dog Awards wanted to change that by recognizing the heroes on both ends of the leash. Each year they solicit nominations for pups in eight categories--Law Enforcement, Service, Therapy, Military, Guide/Hearing, Search and Rescue, Arson, and Emerging Hero. A combination between online voting and a panel of judges determines the winner in each category. Those eight finalists are flown to Hollywood for an awards gala that honors each dog and announces the grand prize winner.
To help cultivate the next generation of hero dogs, the American Humane Association donates $2,500 to each of the eight finalists' charity partners and an additional $5,000 for the grand prize winner's charity partner.
This year the grand prize winner was a search and rescue dog named Kobuk. The 7-year old German Shepherd and his handler, Elizabeth Fossett, have been volunteering with Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD) for the last four years. While they may make it look easy, search and rescue requires a lot of work. It took two years to find Kobuk since not all dogs are cut out for this kind of job. The searches often require for them to work eight hours at a time for multiple days. And when not deployed, Elizabeth spends 30 hours a month training and keeping Kobuk's skills fresh. But seeing the difference they've made makes it totally worth it. Elizabeth remembers early in their search and rescue career, Kobuk located 77-year old Ruth Brennan who had diabetes and dementia. Ruth had been missing for three days until Kobuk tracked 2/10 of a mile to find her.
"Kobuk came up over the hill and gave me his trained bark alert that he had found her and located her," remembers Elizabeth. It was a thrilling and life changing moment. Nonetheless, Elizabeth never thought she and Kobuk would be flying to Los Angeles to be honored for their work.
"Pinch me," said Elizabeth. "Because how did we go from running around the woods of Maine to walking around the red carpet of Hollywood?" The award couldn't have gone to a more humble and deserving team. I love that the American Humane Association highlights these amazing teams who work behind the scenes.
To learn more about Kobuk and Elizabeth, head over to the American Humane Hero Dog Awards web site to see their tribute video. If you were inspired, consider making a donation to Maine Search and Rescue Dogs to support their all-volunteer team.