Susie, a pit bull mix from High Point, North Carolina, who was beaten, burned and abandoned, then became part of the campaign that changed North Carolina’s animal cruelty laws, was named Saturday night as the American Hero Dog of 2014.
The winner was determined by a combination of votes cast by the public and by a celebrity panel that included singer Naomi Judd, television personality Lisa Vanderpump and actress Bailee Madison.
The other finalists, who were each selected as the leading Hero Dogs in their category, were:
— Kal, the San Antonio Fire Department’s 6-year-old black Labrador, who has participated in more than 200 investigations and helps educate children on fire safety;
— Xena, a pit bull from Johns Creek, Georgia, who was adopted by a family with a boy with autism. Xena’s adoption helped transform the boy from being silent to constantly singing to and talking with her;
— XXon, a guide dog for an Air Force staff sergeant from Bloomfield, Connecticut left blinded by an explosion in Afghanistan;
— Kota, a police dog with the Winchester (Virginia) Police Department, who was injured in an eight-foot fall while responding to a burglary in progress, but still was able to help the human officers finish the call, fighting with a severely fractured limb to ensure their safety;
— Chaney, a Labrador who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an improvised explosive device detection dog. He was adopted by one of his handlers who lives in Waverly, Iowa and they spend many hours volunteering with Retrieving Freedom, a nonprofit organization which trains service dogs for disabled veterans and children with autism;
— Bretagne, who served as a search and rescue dog after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the 2002 Winter Olympics and Hurricane Rita in 2005. She lives in Cypress, Texas and visits elementary schools, helping first graders learn to read; and
— JJ Krawczyk, a service dog partnered with a girl from Apex, North Carolina diagnosed with mastocytosis, a condition that can cause her to have severe allergic reactions. The one-time shelter dog can detect when reactions are about to occur, alerting the girl’s parents that her life might be in danger.
All eight finalists received $1,500 for their charity chosen from the awards’ 15 charity partners. The winner received an additional $5,000 for their charity partner.
The fourth annual American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards at The Beverly Hilton were hosted by actor James Denton and television personality Beth Stern. Presenters included Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and actresses Pauley Perrette, Lacey Chabert and Lori Laughlin.
The ceremony will be broadcast Oct. 30 on the Hallmark Channel.