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The American Kennel Club® (AKC®) 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 this year’s ACE nominees have contributed immeasurably to the lives of individuals and communities across the country, 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. “Whether they serve as law enforcement, search and rescue, therapy, service, or exemplary companion dogs, each nomination is a testimony to the loyalty, devotion and strength dogs give to us.”

The ACE recipients in each category will receive $1,000 and an engraved sterling-silver collar medallion at the nationally televised AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, California on December 13, 2008. In addition they will be honored individually at local dog shows this fall.  This year’s ACE winners include:

Service Dog: “Cary” owned by Sara Elizabeth Solomon of Nashville, TN
Cary, a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever has been 14-year-old Sara Elizabeth “Lizzy” Solomon’s friend and constant companion for the past eight years. Lizzy, who was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, relies on Cary to assist her in daily activities and challenges such as opening doors, picking up dropped items, helping with light switches, carrying her lunch box, and even helping bring clothes so she can get dressed. Cary and Lizzy were paired together by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) when Lizzy was only five years old. With Cary by her side, she has gained a greater sense of self-reliance and has been able to live a more active lifestyle. Lizzy describes her relationship with Cary in her nomination saying that, “Cary is more than a best friend; he is a part of me. He is a constant companion and helper.”

With Cary’s help, Lizzy has become a role model in her community and helped many others with disabilities. Together they serve on a panel for disability awareness training and working with employees and volunteers at community organizations, including the Frist Art Center, the Creative Discovery Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their work has helped others to gain a better understanding of people with disabilities and the role service dogs play in their lives.

Therapy Dog: “Zadok” owned by Julie Burk of Damascus, OR
Zadok, a 6-year-old Akita, has brought comfort to those in need, not just while visiting hospitals, children’s healthcare facilities, and prison inmates, but also in high-profile crisis situations. Julie Burk acquired Zadok at 8 weeks old and through AKC Obedience and Agility training has prepared him for therapy work.

The pair was called upon to visit Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University to console students after their tragic school shootings. Gale Lothrop, Vice President of the National Animal Assisted Crisis Response, explained in her ACE nomination for Zadok, that students responded to dogs more often than to the hundreds of volunteer counselors. Zadok provided the unconditional love and safety that allowed the traumatized students to express their pain.

Recently, Zadok’s special healing powers were called upon once again, this time at a summer camp for children whose parents were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to therapy work, Zadok is active in his role as a breed ambassador for the Akita Club of America. Zadok and Julie are also tireless fundraisers for Akita rescue. Whether helping prospective owners to appreciate this wonderful breed, or by bringing comfort to those in need, Zadok’s calm demeanor and obedient nature always guarantee success.

Law Enforcement: “Lex” owned by Jerome and Rachel Lee of Quitman, MS
Lex, a 7-year-old German Shepherd Dog, is a retired military dog who served in Iraq with young Marine Corporal Dustin Jerome Lee. Cpl. Lee was a renowned dog handler due to his extraordinary ability to work an explosives detection dog and narcotics detection dog simultaneously. Under the skilled guidance of Cpl. Lee, Lex dutifully searched for roadside bombs to keep the roads safe and open for American troops in Iraq. Tragically, Cpl. Lee was killed in a mortar attack in Falluja in early 2007. As he lay bleeding, Lex, although injured himself, was at his partner’s side to comfort him. Their bond was so strong, the loyalty so deep, that medics had to drag Lex away so they could attend to Cpl. Lee. He succumbed a short time later and Lex was reassigned to the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia.

Cpl. Lee’s parents, Jerome and Rachel, who knew about the special relationship that existed between their son and Lex, petitioned to adopt the dog. North Carolina Congressman, Walter Jones, heard about the Lee’s request, and led a successful campaign to retire Lex, so that he could finally have a home with the Lees.

Since his retirement, Lex has been awarded a Commemorative Purple Heart, but he has not rested on his laurels.  The Lee’s bring Lex to VA hospitals and retirement homes to offer solace to the veterans who have so honorably served their country.

Exemplary Companion Dog: “Annie” owned by Donna Rock of Lacombe, LA
Annie is an 8-year-old Doberman Pinscher, who has comforted her owner Donna Rock through loss, given her hope, and provides the assistance necessary to help her achieve her goals. Born without arms, Donna originally purchased Annie to be her companion and to train for obedience competition. The two developed such an exceptional bond that Annie became Donna’s service dog, assisting her with everyday activities. Together, they have excelled at the higher levels of obedience competition, where verbal commands are not allowed and the dog must respond to signals. Donna and Annie have earned numerous Obedience and Agility titles, including the prestigious Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) and the crown jewel in Agility, the Master Agility Championship (MACH). Their teamwork, skill and performance inspire those at ringside to understand the true purpose of the competition.

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, Donna lost her home, belongings, and even her place of work. Donna, who is employed by the USDA, was temporarily reassigned to work in Washington, DC. Through it all, Annie was there for her owner, helping her in the subways, on escalators and navigating through large crowds of people. Annie has loyally remained at Donna’s side, giving not just physical, but emotional support as well. Their amazing bond is the key to their success, not just in Obedience and Agility competition, but also in their day-to-day challenges.

Search and Rescue Dog: “Taffy” owned by Lt. Douglas Williams of Laguna Niguel, CA
Taffy, an 8-year-old Bloodhound, is a faithful civil servant, who uses her skills as a scent hound by saving the lives of others. Taffy and her owner, Reserve Lieutenant Douglas Williams, volunteer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) near Los Angeles, where Lt. Williams is the Supervisor of the Search and Rescue K9 Operations Unit. Taffy kept her community safe by helping to find lost children, Alzheimer’s patients who wandered off, and criminals on the run. She has worked on over 115 documented cases for the police, providing credible information that helped solve crimes.  Taffy has had 12 walk-up finds of lost persons or criminals to her credit, a remarkable number for a search and rescue dog.

She travels with Lt. Williams across Southern California and five other states to assist law enforcement agencies and civilian search and rescue groups in training dogs. Taffy also serves as an advocate for the community and as the face of the OCSD Search and Rescue unit. She has attended over 20 community parades, visited schools for presentations with Lt. Williams, and helps raise students’ awareness about the dangers of drug use, gangs and strangers. She also has participated in numerous Boy and Girl Scout events. An ambassador for the American Bloodhound Club and Bloodhounds West, she appeared in numerous “Meet the Breed” booths, including the one at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship.