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Dogs can do incredible things, and they remind us every day just how lucky we are to have them in our lives. To honor dogs like these, the American Kennel Club hosts the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These annual awards, in their 24th year in 2023, celebrate loyal, hard-working dogs that have significantly improved the lives of their owners and/or communities. After the airing of the ESPN2 special, “AKC Heroes: Awards for Canine Excellence,” we’re excited to announce this year’s winners out of hundreds of entries.

AKC Humane Fund

Five remarkable dogs were selected as this year’s honorees in their respective categories from a pool of nearly 1,000 nominations. The five award categories include:

  • Search and Rescue: Dogs certified to assist in wilderness and urban tracking, natural disasters, mass casualty events and locating missing people.
  • Therapy: Certified therapy dogs working in hospitals, schools, disaster sites, war zones, and wherever else the affection of a good dog can provide comfort.
  • Exemplary Companion: Dogs without formal training or certification that have nonetheless distinguished themselves in some way and have made a meaningful contribution to their owners or communities.
  • Uniformed Service K-9: Full-time working K-9s in the realms of city, county, state, or federal law enforcement; the military; firefighting; customs and border patrol; emergency services.
  • Service: Service dogs who enrich the lives of physically or mentally disabled owners, including, but not limited to, guide dogs for the blind, seizure-alert dogs, hearing dogs, balance dogs.

Winners of the 2023 Awards for Canine Excellence

Search and Rescue Dog

Jennifer Jordan Hall

“Pocket,” a Parson Russell Terrier owned by Jennifer Jordan Hall of Louisville, KY

Ten-year-old Pocket has been doing Search and Rescue work since she was a year old. Pocket’s skills not only include tracing missing people but is also able to identify Native American burial sites. She is trained in Human Remains Detection and has certifications from the International Police Working Dog Association in Search and Rescue Trailing, Water Search, Crime Scene and Land. She has been able to help police officers obtain search warrants and has helped track down missing people from miles away. Pocket and her handler, Jennifer Jordan Hall, have worked with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to find 11 bodies buried that were never detected. Pocket also has her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification.

Therapy Dog

Therapy Dog: “Tuffie,” a St. Bernard owned by Amy McCarthy of Tulsa, OK

Laurie Beth Witt

Tuffie the St. Bernard has been a therapy dog for seven years through Alliance of Therapy Dogs. She’s provided support to several organizations across the greater Tulsa area, including assisted living centers and memory units, colleges during exam times, a facility for developmentally disabled children and young adults, the Tulsa City/County Library’s Paws for Reading program, Tulsa International Airport’s Welcome Waggin’ program, the Laura Dester Children’s Center in Tulsa and the Champs Foundation in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She is also a Pink Paws member of the St. Francis Medical Center’s therapy dog group, where in June 2022, the hospital was affected by a mass shooting, killing four people. Tuffie was deployed for two days, spending time at hospital providing hands-on grief counseling.

Exemplary Companion

“Wave,” a Border Collie owned by Steve Stochaj of Las Cruces, NM

Steve Stochaj

Wave, known as “Wave the Wonder Dog” at New Mexico State University, is a campus celebrity. Owned by NMSU School of Electrical & Computer Engineering Department Chair, Steve Stochaj, Wave is tasked with retrieving the kicking tee during NMSU football games. He has grown into a campus and community celebrity and even has thousands of followers on social media. Stochaj also brings Wave to spring and summer practices so he can meet the players and the players can get accustomed to them being around. Wave is not only keeping busy on campus, but he has AKC titles in Agility, Rally, Obedience, Tracking, Trick Dog, Dock Diving, and Canine Good Citizen (CGC). He also is a member of the Mesilla Valley Search & Rescue Organization.

Uniformed Service K-9

Krista Sutherland

“Queue,” a Labrador Retriever handled by Sgt. Michael Rainey of Greenville, SC

Queue, along with her handler, Sgt. Michael Rainey, are part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. Queue was donated to the department by Defenders for Children. Queue is an Electronic Detection K9, which means that she sniffs out micro-SD cards, thumb drives, hidden cameras, phones, and computers that might have child abuse and/or child pornography on them in hopes of finding sex offenders, traffickers, and/or child pornographers guilty. Since her placement in 2019, Queue has sniffed out hundreds of electronic devices.

Service Dog

Megan Brimner

“Hank,” a German Shepherd Dog owned by Megan Brimner of Aliquippa, PA

Hank is a service dog for eight-year-old Harrison, who is autistic. Hank has been with Harrison and his family for over three years through the organization, K9’s for Kids. Before Hank, Harrison struggled with many activities like car rides and going to the grocery store. He often would escape the family yard. He simply could not tolerate any change in his routine. Due to him being nonverbal, he would often take out his frustrations physically. With the addition of Hank, he has tamed Harrison’s aggressiveness and now has more independence. He has helped Harrison tolerate change and has even helped grow Harrison’s desire to communicate. Additionally, with Hank, Harrison has a newfound love of the outdoors and enjoys hiking.