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The AKC® Humane Fund is proud to announce the winners of the 22nd annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These awards celebrate five loyal, hard-working dogs that have significantly improved the lives of their owners and communities. The five winners were carefully chosen from a pool of nearly 1,000 impressive nominations. The winners in each category were featured in a special broadcast which aired December 2nd on ESPN2. The program will re-air multiple times on ESPN Networks (check local listings) and will be available for on-demand viewing on the ESPN App.

One award is presented in each of the following five categories: Exemplary Companion, Search and Rescue, Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and Uniformed Service K-9. This year’s winners range from a Labrador Retriever who uses his ice-skating skills to help children with developmental disabilities to a Bernese Mountain Dog who helps people bridge the gap between a traumatic event and the connection to mental health support through therapy work.

“The heartwarming stories of these five ACE Award honorees demonstrate the many ways that our canine companions uplift humankind each and every day,” 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 be able to pay tribute to these five canines with the 2021 ACE awards.”

The 2021 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence are proudly sponsored by Eukanuba™. Each ACE recipient will receive $1,000 to be awarded to a pet-related charity of their choice, a one-year supply of Eukanuba premium dog nutrition, and an engraved sterling silver medallion.

This year’s ACE winners are:

Exemplary Companion Dog: “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.


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

“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.


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 certified service dog for his owner, Brandon C. Holiday of North Wales, Pennsylvania. Dyson responds to emergencies, helps Holiday with various tasks and serves as an emotional support dog. 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.


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.


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.


Click here to learn more about the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) and find out the three honorable mentions in each ACE category.