2012 ACE Honorees


The American Kennel Club is proud to announce the Recipients and Honorable Mentions for the 2012 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). Established in 2000, ACE has become a valuable public-outreach program for the AKC as well as a source of pride among the fancy and the dog community.

The recipient in each category (Exemplary Companion, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Service, and Therapy) will receive an engraved silver collar medallion and a check for $1,000 at a presentation ceremony at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Florida, on December 15, 2012. Dogs earning honorable mention will be cited and will receive bronze collar medallions.

Exemplary Companion

Joy: Akita owned by Priscilla and Terry Sharpe of Klamath Falls, OR

The Sharpes were head-over-heels in love with their fluffy new Akita puppy. They expected Joy to be beautiful, loving, and adorable -- and they weren't disappointed. But they had no idea Joy would reveal a mysterious life-saving ability that modern science still can't fully explain.

At 7 months old, Joy began reacting oddly to Terry -- whining, pacing, circling, pressing her nose hard against his lap, and all the while losing her appetite and showing signs of depression. Terry visited a doctor and returned home with terrible news: advanced prostate cancer. Shortly after Terry underwent successful radiation treatment, Joy's behavior returned to normal.

Months later Joy again began alerting, this time on Priscilla. Priscilla went straight to the doctor, and yes, Joy had again alerted on otherwise undetected cancer. There were cancerous polyps on Priscilla's colon, which were successfully removed. Last year, Joy began alerting on Priscilla again.

"I soon learned that it meant 'Sit down before you pass out from low blood sugar!' You see, I'm diabetic," Priscilla explains. "I don't know how she senses these things, but we listen to her warnings without question now."

Honorable Mention

  • Annie Bear: Australian Shepherd owned by Bill Durham of Fort Dix, NJ
  • Hokey: Belgian Tervuren owned by Deb Eldredge of Vernon, NY
  • Nash: Labrador Retriever owned by Chris Card of Las Vegas, NV
  • Rickie Roo: Rat Terrier owned by D. Davidson Harpur of Harbor City, CA
  • Sergeant Sneezy: All American owned by Jennifer Muhe and James Manzi of Aldan, PA

Law Enforcement

K9 Kirby: German Shepherd Dog handled by Detective Christine Kelliher of the Bensalem Township (Pennsylvania) Police Department

Kirby, the "Narc with a Bark," has spent the last six years assigned to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's task force in Philadelphia. Kelliher and Kirby are the frontline defense against huge quantities of illegal drugs entering the tri-state area of eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware.

These world-class drug-busters have rung up an astounding record: Kirby's nose has led Kelliher to over $70,000,000 in drugs and drug-tainted cash. In Kirby's top year, 2011, she sniffed out $17.6 million in contraband and drug money. And after the first five months of 2012, when the AKC received Kirby's ACE nomination, she had already racked up $15.6 million and was well on the way to breaking her own record.

Kirby's finds have led to the issuance and execution of over 500 state and federal search warrants, over 200 felony arrests, and the seizure of countless illegally owned or stolen guns.

It takes a great cop to handle a great dog, and Kelliher is known in the profession as a handler's handler. She is a federally certified drug-dog trainer responsible for Bensalem's K-9 teams, and she also assists in K-9 training for other units in the tri-state region.

Honorable Mention

  • 832's Jokers Wild: Bloodhound owned by 832 K-9's Deputy Dog's Duke Snodgrass of Inverness, FL
  • Blu: Labrador Retriever handled by Officer Curt Dieterle of Rawlings, MD
  • Melanie: Bloodhound handled by Jim Pacetti of Lockport, IL
  • Sammy: All American owned by Walnut Cove Police Department of Walnut Cove, NC
  • Shadow: German Shepherd Dog handled by Ptl. John Michener of Willingboro, NJ

Search and Rescue

Keahi: Belgian Tervuren owned and handled by Kristi Smith of Peoria, AZ

Seven-year-old Keahi (key-ah-hee; Hawaiian for "fire") is from a line of high-achieving show and performance dogs. During her career with Arizona Search Track and Rescue, Keahi has proved to be durable, versatile, and uncannily accurate.

Certified in air-scent, avalanche, cadaver, evidence, and human-remains searches, the in-demand Terv has answered the call in nine states and Canada. She and Smith conduct approximately 43 searches a year, logging between 91 and 126 work days a year---a strenuous pace for any search team.

Smith and Keahi have found lost children and wandering seniors, led investigators to the bodies of murder victims and those who have drowned (including one find 170 feet under water), and recovered key evidence in criminal investigations.

Smith's fellow K-9 handler Claudia Schmitz says, "When not actively working the field on missions, Keahi goes out of her way to interact with the searchers, family, investigators and anyone else on scene, helping them feel better under quite often tragic situations."

In 2008, Keahi gave birth to a litter of seven. Five of her pups are now in the "family business" of advanced search work. Keahi and her offspring are a credit to their breed and their breeding.

Honorable Mention

  • Dino -- All American owned by Jackie Phillips of San Leandro, CA
  • Heather -- Bloodhound owned by Allen L. Means of Strasburg, PA
  • Kessa -- German Shepherd Dog owned by Ann Christensen of Shelley, ID
  • Merit -- Bloodhound owned by Terri Heck of New Cumberland, PA
  • Sam -- German Shepherd Dog owned by Laurie Vickery of Wichita, KS


Pilot: Kuvasz owned by Ann Scott Arnold of Frankfort, MI

Pilot goes into the record books as the first of his breed to ever win an ACE. The Kuvasz is a mighty working dog of Hungarian descent, and Arnold well utilizes the breed's ancient traits of strength and keen intelligence by using Pilot as a "mobility assistance dog."

Arnold sustained neck and shoulder injuries that have rendered her incapable of lifting or carrying anything weighing much more than five pounds, and she suffers from chronic pain and dizziness.

Pilot, one of the very few known service dogs of his breed, enhances Arnold's life by performing many tasks. He can carry a 15-pound load in his backpack. He pulls a shopping cart full of groceries and can drag a hundred pounds of gardening supplies on a plastic sled. He even pulls the laundry up the basement stairs in a duffel bag. And Pilot is a steady companion who can be leaned on, literally, when Arnold feels dizzy.

Pilot comes from a distinguished line of show dogs. Arnold's majestic helper revels in the attention of admirers, and eagerly awaits the "visit" command so he can accept the pats and hugs of the new friends he makes wherever he goes.

Honorable Mention

  • Amos: Labrador Retriever owned by Cindy Stanton of Royal Oak, MI
  • Bravo: Chesapeake Bay Retriever owned by Brenda D. "KC" Owens of Salt Lake City, UT
  • Maizie: Dachshund owned by Karen Ann Young of Amsterdam, NY
  • Rylan: Doberman Pinscher owned by Lisa Blanchard of Clinton Twp., MI
  • Tatiana II: All American owned by Cristina Marie Saint-Blancard of Plantation, FL


Benny: Rottweiler owned by Kelly Skiptunas of Wrightsville, PA

Benny has logged more than 250 hours of therapy-dog service. A former champion show-dog in the United States and Canada, the 9-year-old Rottie has earned the AKC Therapy Dog title (THD) and an AKC Canine Good Citizen certification.

Skiptunas and Benny make regular therapy visits to hospitals and schools, and the READ-certified Benny is a great favorite of the children who participate in "read to a dog" programs at local libraries. Along the way he's appeared at community-education events, appeared on public TV as a goodwill ambassador for his breed, and for his tireless service has won several awards. These include being twice honored by the American Rottweiler Club, the breed's AKC parent club.

A remarkable record, to be sure, but even more remarkable considering Benny is five years removed from a debilitating battle with osteosarcoma and must wear a brace on his weakened leg.

Benny has not let cancer keep him from doing what he loves best: bringing comfort and happiness to all he meets. "Volunteering with Benny at the other end of the leash is a precious experience for me," Skiptunas says. "I could not be more proud of this exceptional dog."

Honorable Mention

  • Diamond: Golden Retriever owned by Dennis and Myra Kalodish of Plantation, FL
  • Godfrey: Doberman Pinscher owned by Allen and Joanne Hauge of St. Louis, MO
  • Lawrence: Labrador Retriever owned by Patricia Wheeler of Livermore, CA
  • Nola: All American owned by Ingrid Schillebeeckx-Rice of Barnegat, NJ
  • Obi: Rhodesian Ridgeback owned by Dolores Socha of Township of Washington, NJ