Chi Chi, a quadruple amputee Golden Retriever who brings smiles to the faces of everyone she encounters in her role as a therapy dog, is American Humane’s 2018 Hero Dog.
Chi Chi was one of seven finalists recognized at the event, held October 24. The American Humane Hero Dog Awards seeks to recognize ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things.
While all of the honored dogs have proven to be remarkable in their own way, there was only room for one to take home the grand prize. We caught up with Chi Chi’s owner, Elizabeth Howell, and the other finalists to see what it takes to be a hero dog.
2018 American Humane Hero Dog
Therapy Dog Category Winner: Chi Chi
From: Phoenix, Arizona
Chi Chi is a Golden Retriever who was rescued from South Korea from the dog meat trade. She was found with her legs bound and worn to the bones. Due to the extent of her injuries, she had all four of her legs amputated. A few months after the surgery, she was adopted by the Howell family in Phoenix.
“We saw a video of her on social media just shortly after she was rescued and decided we wanted to adopt her and give her the best life possible,” Elizabeth Howell told us.
Chi Chi became a therapy dog about a year ago and was named the Therapy Dog category winner in addition to the title of 2018 Hero Dog. She was recognized for her work not only with the people she visits in schools, nurseries and senior centers but also all the people she touches online through her social media following.
Her owners say Chi Chi, who gets around with the help of prosthetics, is an amazing example of overcoming adversity.
“Being an amputee, she’s battled three different kinds of cancer and other medical issues, and she just keeps going. She doesn’t give up,” Howell says. “People really relate to that and are inspired by that.”
A day in the life of Chi Chi? She loves to be outside and chase bubbles and play with a ball.
“She can run and gets around well,” Howell says.
Favorite toy: She loves squeaky toys. “She has a huge collection,” Howell says. Her favorite toy is the Outward Hound HedgehogZ plush dog toy.
Favorite food: She eats a home-cooked diet that consists of chicken, broccoli and green beans.
Favorite treat: She loves the Chicken Soup for the Soul treats.
“We are honored that Chi Chi is the 2018 American Hero Dog,” Howell says. “We hope everyone who hears about her story is inspired to never give up, cherish every day and love abundantly. Chi Chi doesn’t allow her challenges to limit her abilities or potential. There are so many animals that need loving homes–we hope people will consider adopting a pet with different abilities.”
Meet the Other Finalists
Chi Chi was in good company this year and the competition was stiff. Here are the other deserving canine finalists.
Law Enforcement/Arson Dog of the Year: K-9 Flash
From: Detroit, Michigan
Flash was a day away from being euthanized but was given a second chance in life as canine police hero. Throughout her service, Flash had 3,000 deployments and 2,200 finds.
“When she retired, she needed a home and she was able to help me start the Project K9 9 Hero Foundation,” says Jason Johnson, Flash’s owner.
The foundation, which was created in honor of Flash, helps provide retired police dogs and military dogs with medical care, food and death benefit assistance.
“Right now, we have over 30 dogs in her program and we have another 40 in waiting,” Johnson says.
While on active duty, Flash served in Yakima, Washington. Her work resulted in millions of dollars of drugs and narcotics contraband being taken off the streets of the city of Yakima and the state of Washington. She worked for several drug tasks forces, as well as helped the regional SWAT team and the patrol division.
“Three thousand deployments—you can imagine all the lives she could have saved!” Johnson says.
Fun fact: In her retirement, Flash travels that nation to promote a children’s book inspired by her story.
“She has a children’s book out called ‘K-9 Flash Becomes a Hero!’ and we read that to schools all across America,” Johnson explains. “The kids love her. It’s a really inspirational story that you can achieve anything in life regardless of where you start from. She started from a day away from being put down to being on the red carpet here today!”
Favorite food/treat: She likes people food better than dog food. “Any snacks or treats or leftovers she can get!” Johnson says.
Favorite toy: A tennis ball.
Emerging Hero Dog of the Year: Willow
From: Las Vegas, Nevada
Like Chi Chi, Willow is originally from South Korea and was rescued from the dog meat trade. He was honored for raising awareness about the dog meat trade and educating the public on animal welfare issues.
“We’re working on legislation, education and sterilization programs to help impact what’s going on over there because we cannot rescue them all,” says Heather Heath, Willow’s owner.
According to Heath, Willow shows everyday heroism “simply by being the type of dog that he is. Anyone can hold him. Anybody can play with him. Anybody can interact with Willow. He really puts a face to the fact that this can be overcome. You can get past what’s happened to you and really make a difference.”
Fun fact: His owner jokes that Willow can fall asleep anywhere. “As long as I am holding him, he is so happy and content and just willing to be there and show people that he can trust again,” she says.
Willow also doesn’t have any teeth. When he was rescued, all of the teeth had to get pulled, so his tongue hangs out all the time.
Favorite food: He eats the Halo Holistic Garden of Vegan adult dry dog food with some chicken mixed in.
Favorite treat: Spaghetti. “But with no teeth, the spaghetti always hangs out of his mouth. It falls everywhere, it makes a mess, but he sure does like it,” Heath says.
Guide/Hearing Dog of the Year: Frances
From: Staten Island, New York
Frances is a guide dog to Holly Bonner, a woman that lost her eyesight at the age of 32. In her daily life, Frances helps her owner do everything from crossing the street to performing tasks around the household. She also assists Bonner with her two daughters.
“Frances is my best friend and my partner,” Bonner says. “She helps me balance being a working mom and raising two little girls.”
When she is not serving as a guide dog to Bonner, Frances helps to educate kids as part of Bonner’s Visually Impaired Education Program (VIEP), which helps school-aged children engage with the visually impaired community, and tackles stereotypes associated with blindness.
“Every person she encounters walks away knowing a little more about the blind and the visually impaired community, and has a deeper respect for visually impaired parents,” Bonner says.
Last year, Frances touched the lives of 1,000 children in Staten Island and helped educate the community about vision loss and guide dogs.
A day in the life of Frances: She “wakes up to 4- and 5-year-old little girls and typically helps me get both of them to school. She takes me to work with my job as a professor at the Metropolitan College of New York. She takes me to eye doctor appointments during the week and gets me to various community events. We attend PTA together, bake sales and all other functions for my children’s schools,” says Bonner.
Fun fact: Frances is an excellent guest at children’s tea parties. “She owns four tiaras and one tutu,” Bonner reveals.
Favorite food: Frances eats Iams food.
Favorite treat: “She loves Blue Buffalo Halloween Boo Bars,” says Bonner.
Military Dog of the Year: Sgt. Fieldy
From: McAllen, Texas
Bomb detection dog Fieldy deployed in 2011 to Afghanistan, where Nick Caceres, Fieldy’s owner, served as the pup’s handler.
“Every time we went on patrol, every time that we thought we saw something, he would go and check it up and let me know, ‘Yes this is a bomb, or no this is nothing,’” Caceres says.
Fieldy cleared compounds and landing zones to get marines out. He also did joint patrols with other armed forces, such as Britain.
“He had a real good drive and we got asked to do stuff like that,” Caceres says.
Fieldy doubled as a service dog while stationed overseas, according to Caceres.
“He did stuff that we could never do, but he also made us feel normal,” he says. “You’re in a combat area, you’re at war and a dog is normal. That’s like being back at home. When days got long, and it got tough being over there, he was wagging his tail, ready for me to throw him a ball.”
And it wasn’t just for Caceres. Fieldy, who went on to serve in multiple deployments, lifted the spirits of the other marines on site as well.
A day in the life: He retired in 2014 and now lives with Caceres. “He likes to play with my 4-year-old son. [My son] just joined T-ball, so my son will hit the ball off the tee and Fieldy will go and chase it and bring it back,” Caceres says.
Favorite toy: “You bring a tennis ball and he’ll go crazy!” Caceres says.
Favorite food: He’ll eat anything!
Search and Rescue Dog of the Year: Ruby
From: East Greenwich, Rhode Island
Ruby was deemed unadoptable back in 2011. But then her foster parents, who kept getting her back, thought she would be a great working dog. She was eventually adopted and put to work in the field.
“Her big accolade is that we saved a young boy’s life last year, as he had gone missing for 36 hours,” says Daniel O’Neil, Ruby’s owner, who was called in on the case as part of the local K-9 unit.
O’Neil recalls that the boy’s mother asked him, “Do you know a dog named Ruby?” The woman, who had never met O’Neil before, went on to mention that she had volunteered at the shelter a while back where Ruby was being housed and was part of the crew that advocated for her to become a service dog. The woman told him she had heard some type of police and rescue agency adopted Ruby.
“I told her she was working with me and she started to cry and said, ‘Maybe this is a godsend. Maybe this is something higher power that has put her out here to go and search for my son,’” O’Neil says.
O’Neil and Ruby were out in the woods, turned the corner and spotted the woman’s son lying face down in the woods.
“He had hit his head on a rock and fallen down,” O’Neil says. “Ruby found him and was able to go and revive him. She started to lick his face and open up his airways.
The boy ended up spending two weeks in the hospital, according to O’Neil.
“When I brought him out of the woods, Ruby was leading the charge,” he says proudly. “I always say it was her saying ‘thank you for giving me a second chance in life and not giving up on me.’”
A day in the life: When O’Neil first adopted Ruby, he notes that she was kind of disobedient. But as soon as she got into a stable environment, she really shined. “She is such a great family pet,” he says. “I have two young boys at home and my wife. Whenever I have a day off, we do beach days. She’s just a great addition to my family, so it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Favorite food: Taste of the Wild High Prairie grain-free dry dog food
Favorite toy: Anything she can find! “She loves tennis balls or anything that can squeak. And of course, she loves to get the squeaker out of them,” O’Neil says.
Service Dog of the Year: Roxy
From: Canton, North Carolina
Roxy was recognized for being personal service dog to Justin Tucker and is the first Pit Bull to ever win the category. Being an Iraq war veteran, her handler has PTSD. On a daily basis, the pup assists her owner by bringing him comfort and reducing his anxiety. The duo have been together since Roxy was 11-weeks old.
“I have a lot of PTSD issues, wringing of the hands, a lot of anxiety. And she knows to alert to that anxiety by pawing at you by basically saying, ‘Hey dad. Pay attention to me,’” Tucker says.
He adds that Ruby’s gestures are gentle. A simple paw of the hand provides a little disruption that helps.
“She is so bubbly and so excited that you want to pay attention to her,” he says. “It’s pretty hard not to say, ‘I love you, Roxy!’”
Ruby also does a maneuver known as deep tissue compression, which works wonders in comforting her owner.
“She’ll get on top of you and put all of her weight on her, which basically forces you to hold onto her,” he says. “So, it’s basically like a big buddy hug. There are a lot of times when your anxiety kicks up and it’s like, I need your hug!”
Everyday life: Roxy often accompanies Tucker to places like the VA hospital. “I have a lot of anxiety going to the VA, given that I am an Iraq disabled veteran. And she does help while I’m there. She’ll help me; she’ll help other veterans while we’re at the VA to provide that therapy. She lightens the mood with everybody,” he says.
Fun fact: I also always paint her toenails with Color Paw Dog Nail Polish. Her color is Tiffany blue. “It brings out the color of her service dog patches,” says Tucker.
Favorite toy: Ruby’s owner says that she loves to play. “She has an infatuation with fleece blankets. She doesn’t play with toys. She plays with fleece blankets,” he jokes.
Favorite food: She eats a dry kibbled called 4Health dog food, but Tucker also mixes in a lot of vitamins. “We do coconut oil, Zesty Paws Omega-3 Krill Oil Bites dog supplement, plain Greek yogurt, and a little bit of rice to keep some weight on her,” he says.
By Nicole Pajer
Featured Image: Courtesy of the American Humane Hero Dog Awards