Hero Dog of the Year 2013

AHA honors Elle the therapy dog, a Pit Bull whose owner hopes will break dog breed stereotypes.

By | Posted: October 23, 2013, 12 p.m. PDT

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AHA Hero Dog of the Year Elle the Pit Bull with Leah Brewer and Robin Ganzert
AHA Hero Dog of the Year Elle the Pit Bull with Leah Brewer and Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of AHA
Photo: Michael Rueter

Everyone’s dog is their hero, but the American Humane Association sifts through the uber-canine-heroes in their annual Hero Dog Awards to crown the winner of all canine heroes. There are eight finalists, many of whom are rescue dogs, and one overall winner. For 2013, the hero of all dogs is a Pit Bull named Elle, pronounced Ellie, from Roanoke Rapids, NC.

"Elle was nominated in 2012 by her friend Meg on Facebook,” says Leah Brewer, Elle’s owner. "The competition provided a wonderful way to share her story and for her to make many new friends in the dog community. The entire voting campaign was helpful for people to learn more about Elle and the importance of her job as a therapy dog.”

It was an honor for Elle to win this award, but the ripple effect of her designation as "hero” will hopefully resonate through the kennels of shelters all over the nation. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of Pit Bulls who enter shelters are euthanized each year.

Pit Bulls especially are a misunderstood breed, subjected to discriminatory laws. Consider this, from DontBullyMyBreed.org:

According to the American Temperament Testing Association, the American Pit Bull Terrier has an 85 percent passing rate, compared with a passing rate of 82 percent for all breeds on average. In this test a dog is placed in a series of confrontational situations. The first sign of aggression or panic is a failure.

Part of Elle’s job is to teach children dog safety and to help them overcome their fear of dogs.

Elle started a therapy dog reading program called "Tail Wagging Tales," helping children enjoy books and improve their reading skills. Elle is also making a difference by visiting her friends at an elementary school, a middle school, and a retirement home.

"Elle has a huge heart that she shares freely with her little readers, her friends at the retirement home, and families in our community,” says Brewer. "She has a magical way of connecting with people. If a person is afraid, she offers them respect and space to overcome their fear. If a child is a struggling reader, she provides patience and support with a nonjudgmental ear. If a friend is sad, she cheers them up with her silly personality and brings a big smile to their face. Elle is all about hope and happiness.”

"The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards were created to honor some of the most extraordinary heroes the world has ever known, the very best of our ‘best friends’ – ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things,” says Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane Association. "These courageous canines have gone above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives on the battlefield, comforting the ill, aged and afflicted, bringing hope to those who have lost it and reminding us of the powerful, age-old bond between animals and people. Choosing a top dog is difficult because they are all so terrific. As an organization that for years has fought breed-specific legislation, we are also pleased to honor a breed that has been often been unjustly maligned. We hope that Elle’s story will help to underscore the many tremendously positive qualities of this breed.”

Brewer says that she hopes to see an end to BSL in her lifetime.

"Elle’s Hero Dog Award from the American Humane Association caused a worldwide change in public perception to view Pit Bulls positively,” says Brewer. "Everyone will learn the truth and understand that Elle is an example, just like so many dogs that live with love, leadership, and a responsible family – individual dogs deserve a fair chance.”

Each of the eight finalists received $1,500 to be donated to one of American Humane Association’s charity partners. Elle won an additional $5,000 for her charity.

Hero Dog Awards Premieres on Hallmark Channel on Oct. 30, 2013 at 8PM/7PM Central. The 90-minute program will air as part of Hallmark Channel’s Pet Project.

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