It was all about dogs making a difference. The American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards Gala Luncheon at Mar-A-Lago the other day filled me up with inspiration and admiration for the dogs, their humans and all they do. We were celebrating the dogs who were chosen by the public as the 2015 Hero Dogs, in categories like Military Dog, Search & Rescue Dog, Emerging Hero Dog and others. And, lucky us, some of them were there. Come inside the opulent Trump-owned club with me, meet these amazing animals and hear their hero dog stories!
The event kicked off with a silent auction of beautiful items for both us and our dogs. Think lots of bling and goodies for the pampered pet. I especially loved the dog baskets from California Collar Company and Lap of Luxury Dog Spa and the Sleeps with Dogs cozy pillow, lounge wear and bedding.
One of the most exciting points of the day was meeting Harley, the one-eyed Chihuahua senior who took the top dog honors at the Hero Dog Awards last October. For those who haven’t heard of Harley, he spent ten long years as a breeder dog in a puppy mill. When the breeders no longer had use for him and it seemed like his life was nearing its end, they threw Harley atop a bucket of dead dogs and left him there to perish. Luckily, a worker at the mill noticed some life in Harley, scooped him up and got him to a rescue organization, where the amazing couple, Dan and Rudi Taylor, adopted him.
The vet told them Harley probably only had two or three months to live; he had a lot of health issues and a bad heart. Miraculously, with love and care, its now five years later, and Harley, at 15, is still going strong. Why? Partly, the Taylors feels it’s due to his indomitable spirit that allowed him to survive in a puppy mill for so long, under such horrible conditions. But also, it’s because Harley knows he has a mission.
After Harley began thriving, Rudi decided to create a Facebook page for him and it took off like gangbusters. Previously unfamiliar with puppy mills, she now wondered if Harley and his Facebook friends, could help other mill dogs like himself. So, they connected with National Mill Dog Rescue, an amazing organization that have helped so many. To date, Harley’s cause, Harley to the Rescue, has raised close to one million dollars, saved well over 1,000 mill dogs, provided veterinary care and raised money for National Mill Dog Rescue to do even more. Today, Harley is a bonafide star.
He was very serene perched on his daddy’s arm. But, Dan shared that Harley’s cardiologist told him, “There are only two dogs I have to stand up for to give an EKG; Great Danes and Harley!” Apparently, Harley is a feistmueister; you don’t mess with him. To me, he was sweet and adorable, wearing his very stylish crystal collar.
“He’s such an amazingly strong spirit,” Dan emphasized. “He’s got a huge job and he’s made it perfectly clear, he’s not giving up anytime soon.” I shared with Dan that we’d recently adopted two Chihuahuas from a puppy mill and how it astounds me that Albie, the little boy who spent seven long years there, in such a short period of time, displays such courage with the trust he affords me. “They’re very resilient, very forgiving,” Dan agreed. “These are qualities we, as people, should learn from our dogs. Harley came out, and all he wanted to do immediately was to love people and be loved.”
I also got to meet dogs helping to save human lives. There was nine-year-old KK, who suffers from mastocytosis, a condition that causes her to have deadly reactions to everything from heat, fatigue, chemicals, medication and certain foods. Her adorable, five year old pup, JJ, alerts her as to when she’s about to have a reaction, so she can head it off at the pass. They’ve been together four years and Michelle, KK’s mom, beams when she talks about what a great team they make.
Gorgeous two-year-old Golden Retriever, Eggroll, was just paired with Elizabeth Steller, a pretty 22-year-old who has seizures. Eggroll alerts her as to when she’s about to have one. Elizabeth and Eggroll have some fun things planned in support of the organization, Canine Assistance, who finds, trains and then places these dogs with people in need. In a couple of weeks, they’ll head to Buckhead, Atlanta, where they’ll walk in a fashion show!
German Shepherd, Axel, who’d won the Hero Dog Award in October for Service Dog of the Year, was there with his dad, former Marine Corps Captain, Jason Haag. Six years ago, Haag was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury after returning from two combat tours in the Middle East. He was in a constant state of severe depression, and struggled with alcohol abuse, taking more than 30 medications to deal with his debilitating symptoms.
In 2012, he met Axel, who he calls his “lifesaver.” Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge from Axel to remind him that he is out of the combat zone. At other times, Axel uses his training to remove Jason from an environment when a severe panic attack has begun.
When he met Axel, the dog was one week away from being put down, sleeping on a shelter floor, while Captain Haag was sleeping in his basement, with a gun under his pillow. Now, he shares a bed with his “big, furry security blanket.” You can see in the picture above, how devoted they are to one another. Jason is now the National Director of Military Affairs for the American Humane Association.
Dr. Robin Ganzert, Beth Stern, Lois Pope, the Taylors & Maureen Callahan inspire!
Once the program began, we heard moving stories from animal advocates like Dr. Robin Ganzert, President/CEO of the American Humane Association; advocate, foster mom and all around animal lover, Beth Stern; philanthropist dynamo, Lois Pope who, in addition to having rescued hundreds of dogs on her own (she now has 10 at her home in Palm Beach and another 14 at her home in Aspen) and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to AHA for its programs, she’s also seen the fruition of her decade long effort to get an official Veterans Disabled for Life memorial established in Washington, D.C., formally announced by President Obama in October of 2014.
I asked Beth Stern if there was a particular rescue story that stood out; one she’ll always remember. “Yes, it happened in Florida last year,” she shared. “I got an Instagram message from one of my followers, saying he’d found a kitten that didn’t look well. He sent me a picture, and I wasn’t even sure it was a kitten. I flew to Florida, and picked it up. He’d had such a severe eye infection that both his eyes had popped out of his little head. So, I had both of his eyes removed, and he became a sensation in my foster room. He started taking care of all the other babies in the foster room. My husband [Howard Stern] named him Buddy, and because of Buddy’s story and his inspiration (he sees with his heart), he became the central character of my children’s book that just came out in December, called Yoda Gets A Buddy. So, he’s my fighter and right now has 45,000 Instagram followers of his own!” Gotta love that! Beth currently fosters a number of animals in her and Howard’s home in New York City.
Lois Pope shared a rescue story with me about a dog who’d been kept in a crate for the first five months of his life. “The dog was up in Pahokee, Florida, so I went up there and saw this dog that was bleeding from the fleas, and he was quite a large dog, he was a Standard Poodle,” Pope shared. “The poor thing was never taken out of the crate for five months. So, that dog I had to take home. I love this dog. His name is Limbo, because he’s neither here nor there, but he’s heaven to me. He’s got such kind eyes and he looks at me with such gratitude.”
One of the most inspiring speeches of the afternoon was given by New York Post editor and writer, Maureen Callahan, the recipient of the The National Humanitarian Medal. Callahan was instrumental in helping the American Humane Association reunite Military Working Dog, Matty, with Army Specialist, Brent Grommet, after they were separated when his tour of duty in Afghanistan was done. They served as a bomb detection team there, but a roadside blast ended their careers in June of 2013. Upon returning to the U.S. after being wounded in the explosion, Grommet and Matty were unceremoniously separated. And, while Grommet had submitted adoption papers for Matty, a bureaucratic error and/or negligence caused Matty to be adopted by another party.
When Maureen learned of Brent’s story and anguish over being separated from his dog, she set about trying to right this wrong through reporting and working behind the scenes with Lois Pope. Callahan’s courageous stories brought much-needed attention to Grommet’s cause and they were finally reunited.
Last spring, Brent and Matty went with American Humane Association to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, Senators, and their staffs about the need to change the law, so all military working dogs are guaranteed a ride home. On November 25, 2015, President Obama signed into law the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, a major victory for American Humane and military dogs everywhere. The bill mandates that military working dogs will be returned to the United States upon retirement, and that their human handlers and their families will be given first right of adoption. Wonderful!
American Humane is celebrating 100 years of serving the military, both humans and animals or, on both sides of the leash, as they like to say. “We’re so excited to have the first legislative victory in this area, a major victory for those wonderful animals who serve alongside our servicemen and women,” Dr. Robin Ganzert exclaimed. I also asked Robin to share a powerful rescue story with us. “You know, rescue stories are what we do everyday,” she said. “Today, we’re on the ground in Buffalo, New York. We went there to rescue 63 Morgan horses. When we got there, we realized this horrible hoarder had another farm down the road. We went to that farm, and now we’re rescuing another 600 animals of all species. So, when I think about rescue, I think about this situation; almost 700 animals we’re impacting as we speak today. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also life-affirming. These animals were given a second chance at life because of our work at American Humane. Animals make us humans better, and we need to remember that. We always need to remember that.”
And, that’s why we’re here. After a meal capped off by delicious desserts created from the recipes of culinary mogul, Donatella Arpaia, who also spoke at the luncheon, we all happily filed out, our hearts and stomachs sated. I look forward to keeping in touch with Dan, Rudi and Harley Taylor; you may very well see them here on Bark & Swagger again or on my radio show in the near future. Thank you, American Humane, for inviting me to this most wonderfully inspiring day. It’s heartwarming to see all of the good works our canine and human friends are doing out in the world.
Do you have a powerful rescue story? Share it with me!
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