This week is a very special one for American Humane Association. It is the culmination of a project that has been more than a year in the making, and I’m beyond excited for all of our friends to have the chance to watch the inaugural American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards™ presented by CESAR® Canine Cuisine this Friday — Veterans Day — on Hallmark Channel at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central. The remarkable tales of our eight finalists serve as an inspiration to us all, and I know I won’t be the only one shedding a tear or two.
But earlier this week, we had the chance to do a very special promotion leading up to Friday’s broadcast. American Humane Association went to Capitol Hill, where, in the room for the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives, we hosted a very special Tribute to War Heroes on Both Ends of the Leash. There, we welcomed three of our finalist dogs and their handlers, who all were proud to be on hand to honor the men, women, and dogs who fight valiantly every day to keep Americans safe.
Joining us on the Hill that day were Michael Hingson, whose guide dog, Roselle, saved his life by leading him down 78 flights of stairs in the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks, as well as Military Working Dog Bino C152, who served in Iraq, and search-and-rescue dog Sage, who served in Iraq and at the Pentagon during 9/11. Each of their handlers spoke beautifully about the importance of the work these dogs do every day to keep people safe. As Michael put it, “They’re doing their job” — but their work is something we should never take for granted.
Although Bino is retired from active duty, he and his handler, Debbie Kandoll, work with our nation’s veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Doctors have recommended that some of these soldiers use dogs as part of their therapy, and Debbie and Bino make sure the dogs are trained properly to help these veterans on the road to recovery. Sage has had an impressive career as a search-and-rescue dog, but now she is helping people in a new way: she visits camps for children affected by cancer, to help the kids learn to cope with the disease.
Our afternoon on the Hill was all possible thanks to Virginia Congressman Jim Moran’s sponsorship of the event. Rep. Moran is the co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and is a great friend to the institution, and we were glad he was able to join us and speak about the power of the human-animal bond. He is a champion for tougher punishments for people involved in dogfighting, as well as for helping to change the status of military working dogs like Bino so they are reclassified as soldiers when on active duty and as veterans when they retire.
The sad reality is that dogs in our military are currently regarded as equipment, and there might not be a ride home for them when their tour of duty is over. A law signed in 2000 by President Clinton now makes it possible for civilians to adopt retired military working dogs, but they need to pay for their transport back to the United States, which can be a great cost. Debbie is a strong, strong advocate for this change, and I applaud her for the work she is doing to help get these dogs home to loving families.
Monday afternoon was special for American Humane Association as we celebrated heroes, both human and canine. Many congressional staffers and members of the national press were there to hear our message of compassion and the human-animal bond, but also to get a small taste of the Hero Dog Awards broadcast we have in store on Friday.
This Thursday, I will appear on the Fox & Friends morning show along with our national spokesdog, Rin Tin Tin, a hero whose forebear was born on the battlefields of Europe during World War I. We will be there to tell Rinty’s story and to promote Friday’s broadcast. I invite you to tune in then and, of course, on Friday to Hallmark Channel, as we celebrate dogs everywhere and name America’s Hero Dog. Enjoy the show!