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The American Kennel Club announced today the winners of the seventh AKC Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE), the award designed to commemorate loyal, hard-working dogs that have made significant contributions to their community. The ACE is given annually to dogs in each of the following five categories: Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Therapy, Service and Exemplary Companion Dog.

“All of our ACE nominees are truly deserving of recognition and choosing just one for each category is the hardest thing to do,” said Ronald Rella, AKC Director of Project Administration and member of the judging panel. “Each nomination is a testimony to the loyalty, devotion and strength dogs give to us. I am proud to present this year’s recipients of the American Kennel Club Award for Canine Excellence.”

The five ACE recipients will each receive a cash award of $1,000 and an engraved sterling-silver collar medallion at the nationally televised AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, California on December 1-2, 2007. In addition they will be honored individually at local dog shows this fall.

  • Law Enforcement: Baton Rouge, Louisiana Police Department K9 Unit
    After Hurricane Katrina, Baton Rouge’s population doubled overnight due to the sudden flux of refugees in hotel rooms, rental units and shelters. That, combined with the presence of national and local media crews as well as military and federal responders, created an extremely chaotic scene. With a significant spike in crime the city’s law enforcement agency was stretched thin.

    The Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) K9 team consisting of nine German Shepherds and a Belgian Malinois faced this situation with professionalism and determination. Working during the hottest time of the year, the team responded to 3,740 calls, recovered 47 stolen vehicles and made 318 arrests. “Without a doubt, our K9s were instrumental in making the city of Baton Rouge a safer place to live,” wrote Sergeant Robert Glaser, a member of the K9 unit, in his nominating letter. Demonstrating their dedication to the public, the BRPD K9 unit has asked that its award money be donated to the St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in honor of a fellow K9 handler’s daughter who was a patient there.

    “Usually only an individual dog is honored with the ACE, however in this unique situation we could not bring ourselves to single out only one hero, and therefore were inspired to bestow the award upon this entire team of dogs,” added Rella.

  • Search and Rescue: “Ranger” from Shreveport, LA
    Ranger, an eight-year-old Labrador Retriever owned by Captain Kerry Foster, began his work as a search and rescue dog for the Shreveport Fire Department in 2001. Since then Ranger has conducted approximately 40 search operations in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas each year.

    One of these operations included searching 2,800 collapsed homes in New Orleans between March and July 2006 in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. Ranger and Captain Foster made more than a dozen recoveries of victims’ remains and despite sustaining injuries while on the job, Ranger was always eager to continue searching. His enthusiasm and dedication quickly drew crowds of contractors, FEMA personnel, firefighters and public officials who gathered daily to watch him work. Eventually Ranger was asked to perform demonstrations for White House officials and dignitaries.

    Captain Foster wrote in his nomination that, “Every time he goes to work it is amazing to see him storm the woods or negotiate the rubble in search of those who have lost their lives to tragedy.”

  • Therapy: “Penni” from Franklin Square, NY
    Penni, a 10-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, has spent her time comforting others as a therapy dog at local nursing homes, hospitals and schools since she was a puppy. She began visiting the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf with her owner Florence Scarinci at age two, where students play with Penni at the start of their day, improving their focus on class work. To encourage the children to interact with her, Penni plays fetch with them, and demonstrates the skills she has accumulated from winning several Agility titles.

    A calm dog by nature, Penni has a special knack for people’s emotions and will pick out a child feeling down and crawl into his lap, cheering him up with her kisses. Florence takes Penni to educational demonstrations at elementary schools, colleges and senior centers to educate others about the important work therapy dogs do and the elements of responsible dog ownership. Most recently, Penni has added to her schedule an additional nursing home, a residence for neglected boys and a Reading to Dogs program. Florence admiringly states that, “By just being herself, sitting on laps, licking faces, she brings smiles to faces and lights up eyes.”

  • Service: “Holly” from Magna, UT
    Six year old Shetland Sheepdog Holly is constant companion to owner Shanna Wilkinson. When Shanna was 14, her mother, a Sheltie breeder/exhibitor, gave her the choice to keep a puppy from their current litter. One puppy had become sickly and the vet told the family that she didn’t think she would survive. Shanna nursed the pup to health and they bonded through the struggle. Shanna decided to keep her.

    Three years later, Holly began displaying unusual behaviors around Shanna. Soon afterward, Shanna would have a seizure. Eventually, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and it was discovered that Holly had the rare ability to predict Shanna’s seizures before even Shanna knew about them. The two went to a training school together so Holly could be trained as Shanna’s service dog.

    Holly has helped Shanna regain her independence and overcome her fears. Together, they have successfully earned titles in Agility, Herding, Obedience and Rally. Shanna and Holly have visited elementary schools to help educate others about the wonderful things service dogs can do and teach children how to care for dogs. Shanna wrote in her nomination, “Holly is more than just another dog; she is my life, my love, my protector, my everything. I believe everything happens for a reason and Holly was sent here to watch over me.”

  • Exemplary Companion: “Rumor” from South Sioux City, NE
    Rumor is a four-year-old Rottweiler belonging to teen-aged Francisco Sanguino. The pair has had much in common from the outset of their partnership. Both Rumor and Francisco came to foster parent Steph Anderson from difficult situations: Rumor had been returned to Steph by a previous owner after living in a neglectful situation and Francisco had come as a foster child with a troubled past. Francisco showered Rumor with affection and in return she has flourished, granting Francisco the kind of unconditional love she had previously been afraid to show. Together they learned to open their hearts to others.

    Rumor guided Francisco to the sport of purebred dogs, which has allowed Francisco to become involved in many aspects of the sport — Conformation, Junior Showmanship, Obedience and Rally. They have even become involved in therapy work. Steph had this to say about the inseparable pair: “Rumor, through everything she has taught Francisco and brought to his life, has changed this young man’s life forever. He is looking to the future and making plans — something he has never done before. Through unconditional love, Rumor gave him hope.”

For more information about the ACE winners and nominees click here.