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After the ESPN Airing of the popular special, AKC Heroes: 2021 Awards for Canine Excellence on ESPN2, the AKC is excited to share the winners of this year’s AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These annual awards celebrate loyal, hard-working dogs that have significantly improved the lives of their owners and/or communities.

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: Exemplary Companion, Search and Rescue, Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and Uniformed Service K-9.

“It is no surprise that these five wonderful dogs were selected as this year’s ACE winners,” said Gina DiNardo, Executive Secretary of the American Kennel Club. “Each of their unique stories is testament to the endless ways dogs impact our lives every day. We are honored to be able to highlight these special dogs on ESPN2 with this broadcast.”

ACE award recipients in each category will receive $1,000 to be awarded to a pet-related charity of their choice, a one-year supply of Eukanuba dog food, and an engraved sterling silver medallion.

Winners of the 2021 ACE Awards:

2021 Uniformed Service K-9

“K-9 Mattis,” a German Shepherd Dog handled by Sergeant Mark Tappan of Alpharetta, Georgia

“K-9 Mattis” is an eight-year-old German Shepherd Dog who served the Alpharetta Police Department with his handler, Sergeant Mark Tappan. Throughout his five-year career, Mattis has been responsible for more than three million dollars in drug seizures, 20 successful tracks, and more than 200 arrests, including jumping off a 40-foot cliff with no hesitation while trailing a suspect in 2016.

After retiring in March of 2021, Mattis continued to serve his community in different ways. Sgt Mark Tappan and Mattis now use social media platforms to raise money for sick children, single mothers struggling to pay their bills, and other law enforcement agencies in need of funding for their K-9 programs. Mattis is not only the face for K9 Law Enforcement in Alpharetta, but also helps to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community, serving as a reminder of how loyal, humble, patient and kind officers are.

2021 Therapy Dog

“Teddy,” a Bernese Mountain Dog owned by Caleigh Brown & Pamela Brown of Attleboro, Massachusetts

“Teddy,” officially known as Steadfast Bright Lights Prince Theodore CGCA TKA, is an eight-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog owned by George, Pamela and Caleigh Brown of Attleboro, Massachusetts.

K9FR Canine Teddy is certified by Dog Bone’s Therapy Dogs and K9 First Responders, Inc. Uniformed K9 First Responder Teams (K9FR) bridge the gap between a traumatic event and the connection to mental health support by leveraging the human-canine bond. In this capacity, Teddy has provided support for people in a wide range of situations, including going into a prison, following the untimely death of a young corrections officer and comforting EMS personnel after the death of a beloved coworker. Most recently, Teddy and George deployed to support the US Capitol Police, providing one-on-one and group attention.

As a therapy dog, Teddy visits schools and is a member of one school’s Suppress the Stress club. He works as a reading companion dog for educationally challenged children and visits classrooms to offer support for students and teachers. Teddy also attends adult day programs for developmentally disabled adults.

When Teddy isn’t bringing comfort to those in need, he is often competing with his high-school-aged owner, Caleigh, in conformation, obedience, and other performance events.

Read Teddy’s full story.

2021 Service Dog

“SSD Dyson,” a Labrador Retriever owned by Brandon C. Holiday of North Wales, Pennsylvania

“Dyson,” a ten-year-old Labrador Retriever, is a service dog for his owner, Brandon C. Holiday of North Wales, Pennsylvania. Dyson responds to emergencies and helps Holiday with various tasks. Holiday was wounded in the line of duty as a Police Officer and lost his leg below the knee as a result of the injury and complications with his autoimmune disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Holiday has suffered ten heart attacks, mini embolism, and an adrenal crisis.

While Holiday was suffering in these life-or-death situations, Dyson executed his training, brought him his cell phone to dial 911, pressed an emergency K9 phone, and pulled him up from his basement. Brandon Holiday credits his life to Dyson, after he stepped in on numerous occasions to save him. Furthermore, Dyson has provided Holiday with the freedom to compete for Team USA as a paracanoe athlete, serving other people with disabilities.

With Dyson’s inspiration, Holiday has created an organization called Red, White & Blue K9 Services which employs disabled veterans and first responders, training with their K9 partners to go on to work as K9 detector teams. The program helps disabled first responders and veterans like Holiday, have the ability to work and continue to serve after being injured. To Holiday, Dyson is more than just a service dog, but a second chance at life as well as a companion and best friend.

Read Dyson’s full story.

2021 Search and Rescue Dog

“Magnus Ares,” a Belgian Malinois owned and handled by Sinead Imbaro of Miami, Florida

Imbaro and Magnus take a break from training near their Miami home. This photo was taken one day before demobilization, where rescue turned to recovery at the Champlain Towers collapse. Photo courtesy Gesi Schilling.

“Magnus” is a seven-year-old Belgian Malinois certified as a FEMA Canine Search Specialist for the state of Florida. He is a highly skilled detection dog, specializing in human odor and narcotics, working with his owner and handler, Sinead Imbaro of Miami, Florida.

Magnus is certified by the American Working Association for Narcotics Detection, working for the past six years to help keep drugs off the streets in South Florida. He also attained Level 1 Trailing Certification and Phase 1 MPC Basic Tracking Course, specializing in tactical trailing and tracking of human odor. Additionally, Magnus works as a K9 Medic Demo dog, participating in demonstrations on how to properly care for an injured K9 on scene. Magnus and his owner travel domestically and internationally, teaching odor detection techniques to handlers.

Magnus is a distinguished working dog with a long list of awards and accomplishments, but his most notable attribute is his work ethic. Recently, Magnus Ares and his owner were deployed to the Surfside collapse on June 25th, 2021 with Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6. They were on site for the next nine days searching for signs of life. The team worked silently as rescue workers and machines sifted through debris and personal belongings of the residents that once lived in the condo complex.

Read Magnus’ full story.

2021 Exemplary Companion

“Benny,” a Labrador Retriever owned by Cheryl DelSangro of Las Vegas, Nevada

“Benny,” an eight-year-old Labrador Retriever owned by Cheryl DelSangro of Las Vegas, Nevada, is well-known in his town because of his remarkable ability to ice skate. He has become a fan favorite by skating at Las Vegas Knights hockey games at the T-Mobile arena with his own custom skates and hockey stick.

However, Benny doesn’t just ice skate to wow the crowd, he uses his special on-ice talents to help children with disabilities. Benny skates with a group called Spectrum On Ice (SOI), which is an ice-skating program for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Benny skates, plays games, and shows off tricks on the ice with these children. Benny also visits Opportunity Village, which provides men and women with all levels of disabilities the chance to lead a life that had previously been unattainable. Benny performs shows, where he shows off skateboarding and special tricks and visits with everyone to help spread smiles and joy.

Read Benny’s full story.

Honorable Mentions of the 2021 ACE Awards

Uniformed Service K-9 Honorable Mentions

  • “Ally,” a Bloodhound who works to keep her community safe, having responded to more than 238 calls, including finding a missing juvenile and locating a missing Alzheimer’s patient.
  • “Tabitha,” a Doberman Pinscher and certified explosive detection dog who has been tasked with diplomatic protection for royalty and many prominent persons.
  • “Sky,” a German Shepherd Dog, who serves as the sole narcotic detection dog at Alaska’s Anchorage Airport, having helped the FBI and DEA with hundreds of cases.

Therapy Dog Honorable Mentions

  • “Dakota,” a Doberman Pinscher whose soothing nature helps calm people during traumatic events, including responding to the 2019 Virginia Beach shooting.
  • “Penny,” an All-American Dog who transformed her past into a life of service as the first canine court advocate in her area.
  • “Raven,” a German Shepherd Dog and certified therapy dog who works primarily in courts, helping child sexual abuse victims gather the strength and composure to testify against their abuser.

Service Dog Honorable Mentions

    • “Arty,” a Golden Retriever who gave a boy struggling with autism a new lease on life, making it possible to live home, rather than in an inpatient facility.
    • “Renata,” a Labrador Retriever, who knows over 60 sign commands and helps her owner live independently, despite his disability.
    • “Kendalee,” a Labrador Retriever guide dog who helps her blind owner navigate life, evolving from withdrawn and anxious to outgoing and confident. The duo also competes in AKC Rally, helping to improve their communication and strong bond.

Search and Rescue Honorable Mentions

  • “Trooper,” an Australian Shepherd search dog who has been successful in providing closure for countless grieving families and has discovered historic graves, among many other accomplishments.
  • “Bravo,” a Rat Terrier search and rescue dog who specializes in finding lost pets, helping to recover more than 200 lost dogs since 2019.
  • “Hunter,” a Golden Retriever and certified Human Remains Detection K9, who has a long resume that includes responding to nine federal disasters.

Exemplary Companion Honorable Mentions

  • “Tuffy,” a Newfoundland whose natural water instinct helped him save his owner and another dog from drowning.
  • “Rockefeller,” a Doberman Pinscher who spends his free time donating blood to save his fellow canines, in addition to excelling in scent work and in the show ring.
  • “Carmel,” a Golden Retriever who has been participating in the Morris Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime study for more than half-a-decade to help advance his breed.
Related article: Benny the Ice-Skating Dog Helps Kids, Adults Build Confidence
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