After the airing of the popular special AKC Heroes: 2022 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.
“The stories of the ACE Award winners capture the meaning and fulfillment that our canine companions bring to our lives,” said Doug Ljungren, President of the AKC Humane Fund. “We are grateful to everyone who shared their story by nominating a dog for an ACE award this year. We are pleased to share these five inspiring stories.”
“We are proud to support the ACE Awards and help showcase these remarkable dogs who have made such a life-changing difference to those around them,” said Andy Smith, Global Marketing Director, YuMOVE. “Their daily heroics are truly humbling.”
“Being a part of the ACE Awards supports our vision that every dog is capable of exceptional performance, so it is an honor to celebrate these canine heroes,” said Brad Wadler, Vice President of Marketing, Eukanuba. “We’re proud to highlight extraordinary dogs that better the world around them.”
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 2022 ACE Awards:
2022 Uniformed Service K-9
“Hummer,” a Belgian Malinois handled by Will Sessa of Suwanee, Georgia.
Hummer is a retired tracking and narcotics detection dog, along with his handler William Sessa through the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department, and was certified by Custom Canine Unlimited and the National Narcotics Detection Dog Association during his time on the force. They worked together for seven years before retiring in 2021. Hummer’s tasks ranged from tracking lost individuals like elderly patients with Alzheimer’s and children and young adults with Autism to pursuing criminals. Hummer most notably sniffed out a 22-year-old murder suspect hiding in a dumpster after a long pursuit. They worked together to get massive amounts of illicit drugs off the street and protect the SWAT team.
2022 Therapy Dog
“Axel,” a Rottweiler, handled by John Hunt of Blackwood, New Jersey.
Axel is an extraordinary Crisis Response Certified Canine and has visited countless hospitals, schools, first responder and military organizations. In the past two years, they have volunteered over 2,500 hours and interacted with over 50,000 people. Axel was instrumental during the pandemic when he would sit with dying patients when their family members weren’t able to visit. Axel would console nurses and doctors who’ve witnessed countless COVID-19 deaths to help process grief. In addition, he accompanies his handler to conduct Critical Incident Stress Management sessions with Police, Fire and EMS, helping first responders process grief following a death, suicide, or traumatic event in the line of duty. Axel was also deployed to the scene of the Surfside condo collapse in Florida as well as the shootings in Virginia and Uvalde, TX.
2022 Service Dog
“Lotus,” a German Shepherd Dog, handled by Asia Duhamel of Fallbrook, California
Lotus is an Assistance Dogs International-accredited psychiatric/mobility Service Dog for her owner, Asia Duhamel. Duhamel is a former active-duty Marine who was struggling with PTSD when she thought a service dog might help her get through daily life. Though retired from mobility except for retrievals, Lotus assists her owner in many ways, including disrupting repetitive and anxious behavior, responding to increased breathing, and crowd control. With Duhamel, that means putting her body on her lap, moving her hands out of the way, and licking her on her back until she recovers. Since receiving Lotus, Duhamel has started her training apprenticeship with Next Step Service Dogs after being ADI-accredited through the organization. She is now the lead trainer at a non-profit organization called Canine Support Teams training service dogs. Lotus also participates in a wide variety of AKC sports including Dock Diving, Barn Hunt, Hydro Dash, Canine Good Citizen, Trick Dog, Farm Dog, Scent Work, Rally, and more.
2022 Search and Rescue Dog
“Lincoln,” a Flat-Coated Retriever, handled by Jon Izant, of Seattle, Washington.
Lincoln and his handler are part of King County Search Dogs in Washington State. He responds to over 40 search missions and trains hundreds of hours per year. As a Search & Rescue team, Lincoln and his handler must be on call 24/7 and while as volunteers they are not required to respond to every call, they respond to about 80% of them. He has earned certifications in wilderness, air scent, and human remains detection. Lincoln has been deployed on urban, water, forest and alpine searches from the shores of Puget Sound to the crest of the Cascade Mountains. He has even assisted on a few helicopter air lifts. He has found two missing at-risk persons, both in their late 80’s. One search was completed at 2:30am and he was able to locate the missing person in less than 15 minutes. The other had been missing overnight and despite the obstacles of a dense forest, was able to locate the person.
2022 Exemplary Companion
“Scout,” a Boykin Spaniel, handled by Judge Joseph A. Wyant of Newnan, Georgia.
Scout has been serving on Coweta County Georgia’s Juvenile Court with Judge Joseph Wyant since 2013. She has supported hundreds of children, families, and court staff, helping to alleviate the tremendous stress and often overwhelming emotions that children face when involved with court proceedings. Scout acts as a calming presence for children having to testify in court as well as help children caught in the frightening experience of being in custody of the Department of Child and Family Services.