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AKC announces winners of the
2004 awards for canine excellence

Five Dogs From Around the Nation Demonstrate Unconditional Devotion
and Awe Inspiring Assistance to Mankind

The American Kennel Club announced today the winners of the fifth annual Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE), which honor the extraordinary canine-human bond and the innumerable ways in which dogs meaningfully contribute to our lives. Awards are given annually to dogs in each of the following five categories: Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Therapy, Service, and Exemplary Companion Dog.

“Each year, we get hundreds of the most wonderfully touching and heroic stories,” said Gail Miller, AKC spokesperson and member of the ACE judging panel. “Our panel is constantly amazed at the quantity and quality of the stories. It just demonstrates the impact that dogs have on people’s lives, offering their unconditional love and often being critical to their well-being – whether emotionally or physically or both.”

This year's five recipients will be honored individually at local ceremonies and, collectively, at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Tampa, Fla., on January 15 - 16, 2005 which will be televised live on Animal Planet. The honorees will each receive a cash award of $1,000 and an engraved sterling-silver collar medallion at the event.

  • Law Enforcement: "Justice" from Ocala, FL

Justice, a 5-year-old German Shepherd Dog, is a shining example of what today's law enforcement dog must possess – versatility to handle dangerous situations and a gentle disposition towards children. In 2002, Justice became the devoted partner of Deputy Brian Litz of the Marion County Sheriff's Office, acting as a full service patrol dog trained in suspect apprehension, handler protection, tracking, building searches, evidence recovery, and area searches. The first year the team began working together, Justice earned national certification from the United States Police Canine Association for explosive and bomb detection. In just two years the team's imposing record included over 3,000 calls to service, close to 500 arrests, 53 suspect apprehensions, 15 bomb searches, and 27 public demonstrations. Tragically, in February of 2004, while responding to what at first appeared to be a routine call, Deputy Litz was shot and killed as Justice watched helplessly from inside the patrol car. His canine partner participated in all aspects of the funeral. Justice is now formally retired and living with Deputy Litz’s wife and son, serving them with the same pride and excellence with which he always dedicated himself to his partner.

 

  • Search and Rescue: "Saber" from Dallas, TX

Saber, a 10 year-old Collie and his owner, Fleta Kirk, are members of MARK-9 Search and Rescue in Texas. Certified in 1996 as an air scent dog in urban, disaster and wilderness work, Saber is crossed-trained in water search, scent discrimination, cadaver search and trailing. He is an original member of Texas Task Force 1, a statewide disaster response team and has served with the international 1 st Special Response Group. While Saber has worked many high-profile searches such as the Force 5 tornadoes in Oklahoma and the recovery operation following the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy, he has also dedicated himself to grueling work outside the spotlight. Saber has become acclimated to aircraft, helicopters and the canine harness used to lower him into otherwise inaccessible areas. This tireless dog is also devoted to educating the general public on the role of the search and rescue Dog, and along with other members of MARK-9, educate approximately 2500 children each year on what to do if they become lost. Saber was recognized by the Plano Police Department Crime Prevention Unit for his work with children and is a member of the Oklahoma Veterinary Animal Hall of Fame.

 

  • Therapy: "Saydee" from Ft. Worth, TX

Saydee, a 12-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, and her owner Virginia Hyatt, have volunteered in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for more than 10 years. With an astonishing record of close to 20,000 hours of service, Saydee works with thousands of children and adults each year in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and in schools for the mentally and physically disabled. She is also a devoted listener to children, helping their reading skills through R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). This Paws Across Texas, Inc. (PAT) registered therapy dog often works three or four facilities a day and a five or six day work week. Despite her schedule, Saydee and Hyatt also find time to participate in community events and parades, in order to educate the public about therapy dogs. Throughout her lifetime, Saydee has garnered numerous awards for her work, including the PAT Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as induction into the United Way Volunteer and Texas Animal Halls of Fame. Saydee is truly an exceptional animal, attracting people wherever she goes and capturing the hearts of everyone around her.

 

  • Service: "Kelsie" from Toms River, NJ

Kelsie, a 5-year-old West Highland White Terrier, is a certified Medical Response Service Dog for Loren Marino. As a Lieutenant Commander for the U.S. Navy, Marino trained dogs for the military before being severely wounded in the line of duty. Marino herself trained Kelsie to perform more than 200 tasks such as retrieving items, opening and closing doors and cabinets, and operating handicap doors, levers and buttons. Kelsie even assists Marino to drive by operating blinkers, power windows and turning on headlights. Marino and Kelsie are frequent visitors to community centers, corporate offices, and schools to educate the public about the medical and psychological value of service dogs. The pair teach pet first aid at the local chapter of the American Red Cross and make visits to local nursing homes where Kelsie's magnetic personality bring joy to the oldest and frailest members of the community. Kelsie, who is now a mother of two newly certified service dogs, continues her life of service and has helped Marino to realize that even with limitations, one can still live life to their fullest potential.

  • Companion: "Stormy" from Alpine, CA

Stormy, a 10 year-old Anatolian Shepherd Dog, became a member of Marilyn and Skip Harned's home on Independence Day 1994, when she was 10-weeks old. Just two weeks after her arrival, Stormy was stricken with meningitis and for 48 hours, she hovered near death. She survived, but was left paralyzed from her shoulders back. After many months, this determined puppy regained the use of her limbs and incredibly, went on to become the first female Anatolian Shepherd Dog AKC Champion of Record. In 2000, while participating in the filming of the AKC breed video, tragedy struck the Harned's once again when Skip suffered a debilitating stroke, which would require ongoing rehabilitation. Always vigilant, Stormy has been Harned's constant companion whether she is accompanying him on his therapy walks, sitting with her head in his lap as he works at the computer, or keeping guard at the foot of her charge's hospital bed throughout the night. Stormy has suffered additional health problems and over the years has recovered from several critical illnesses. Her indomitable spirit continues to motivate Harned to face his long-term therapy with a positive outlook.

For photos and to learn more about the 2004 American Kennel Club Awards for Canine Excellence, including honorable mention recipients, please visit http://www.akc.org/news/ace/2004/index.cfm.