Congratulations to the 2014 ACE Award Winners! See their stories below.

Patella - Search and Rescue ACE Award Honoree


K-9 Patella, a 4 year old Black Labrador, is certified as a Human Remains Detection K-9 through the United States Police Canine Association. She has assisted numerous Police Agencies, Fire Departments, and families across Colorado, and most recently after a disaster in the Philippines. On November 8th, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (the strongest and deadliest typhoon in recorded history) impacted the Philippine Islands leaving thousands without homes and thousands more missing. Patella and Handler Jim Houck answered the call by traveling over 9,000 miles to the Philippines, leading in the recovery efforts of loved ones lost in Typhoon Haiyan. Patella adapted quickly to the intense heat, high humidity, and long hours, searching endless miles of debris, some as deep as 20 feet, all while keeping her professional composure and maintaining her overwhelming drive to work. Patella’s tireless effort and determination has been credited with providing closure to hundreds of families by locating the remains of their loved ones. Her hard work and outstanding abilities were recognized by the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization, resulting in her being requested to return two more times to the Philippines, accumulating a total of 60 days of search and recovery operations. “Patella has been a joy to have as a working K-9 and when the collar comes off she is a compassionate, lovable, furry lab companion to my family, especially my two young children” Jim Houck said. Patella’s incredible work ethic and her ability to adapt to any environment have made her an important asset across the United States and around the world. Watch coverage of Patella’s search and rescue efforts here.

Boomer - Exemplary Companion ACE Award Honoree


Boomer the Australian shepherd with magnetic blue eyes has proven to be an outstanding family pet to the Dilts family including Bob and Connie Dilts and their kids, Senneca and Zane. For over 7 years, Boomer has performed her family duties on the Dilts dairy farm in North Mahoning Township of Pennsylvania, herding livestock and showing groundhogs their exit from the grounds. It was on Aug. 4th, 2013 when Boomer passed her biggest test yet, staving off a bold black bear that charged Connie Dilts during her morning walk about one mile from their home. “I heard the bear before I saw it,” Connie said. “I looked up and the bear was in between my dogs, running out of the woods, about 20 feet in front of me. And the bear made a beeline right toward me.” In seconds, the bear was upon Connie. “It stood up to slice me, to swat at me. I got slashed on my wrist and I fell back, or I would have been sliced to the bone,” Connie said. The bear then lunged to bite her face and she fell back again at which point the bear somehow drew blood whether a bite or another scratch, puncturing her shoulder. Then Connie felt the bear’s breath on her face just before it flung her into the air where she came crashing down hard enough to rip her pants. Struggling to stand, Connie screamed once, then blurted out an attack command. Boomer jumped on the bear while Reina stayed to her side, refusing to retreat. “She knew I was in trouble, she leapt on the bear, onto its side, its back, neck and shoulder, and she started biting it. Like a cat. She was hanging on it like a cat,” Connie said. The bear growled with its lip furled and tried to shake Boomer off, shaking her head and swatting but all the while still pursuing Connie. Connie knew Boomer was giving her life for her, not caring for her own safety. Boomer let out a yelp just as the Bear tossed her to the ground and ran into a corn field, disappearing into tall stalk of corn.And then went Boomer, still in pursuit.

Connie dashed back to the spot where the bear had knocked her to the ground, found her phone and frantically dialed Bob, telling him of the attack. Bob Dilts jumped in the truck and sped out to meet her. It turned out that Boomer arrived at about the same time as Bob, with a little tuft of hair in her mouth and a little scrape on her nose. Boomer was taken to the vet and given a rabies booster just to be safe and on the chance the wild bear had been rabid, Connie was put through more than a dozen painful injections to keep from getting the disease.

For days, Boomer remained on edge, and hadn’t yet settled back into her daily routine. Connie described Boomer as being on “high alert” and wouldn’t leave her side. Connie said she continues to puzzle over why this bear was so aggressive. “I didn’t see any cubs. I don’t think I’ll ever know why, whether it was sick. … But I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for my dog. I know that,” she said. “If she hadn’t convinced anyone before now, Boomer also has earned the utmost respect. “She was an amazing dog before this,” Connie said. “She’s just really a good dog.”

You can find the full story published in the Indiana Gazette.

Bruno - Uniformed Services K-9 ACE Award Honoree


Bruno is a 7 year old German Shepherd Dog, born in Czechoslovakia and selected for the Anaheim K9 unit when he was 22 months old. Bruno and his partner, Officer RJ Young have been together for 6 years. Bruno, who is the department’s most senior police dog, goes home with Officer Young every day. At home, Bruno has been at the side of Young’s three month old daughter, providing more proof that you can’t keep a good dog or a hero down. A dog’s work is never done! Bruno and RJ have assisted in hundreds of searches for violent suspects and narcotics. Among their notable “credits,” in 2009, Bruno and Officer
Young tracked and apprehended the drunk-driving suspect who broadsided the car that LA Angels Pitcher, Nick Adendart was in, killing Adendart and four of his friends. Most recently, Bruno and RJ were assigned to the Anaheim SWAT team. In March 2014, Bruno and RJ were called to search for an armed and documented gang member who had shot at two Orange County Probation Officers. Bruno located the suspect in a trash can in the yard of an apartment complex. The suspect opened fire and a bullet struck Bruno, shattering his jaw and entering his chest. The bullet ricocheted off Bruno’s chest plate, missing his heart by less than an inch but damaging part of Bruno’s lung.

Hours of emergency surgery, performed at Yorba Linda Regional Animal Hospital, were required to save Bruno’s life. After six weeks and multiple surgeries, including gastric torsion surgery, Bruno left the hospital on May 2. His heroics contributed to a greater appreciation of the dangerous work K9 units perform. Bruno’s recovery has brought together a legend of young and old fans around the world. The notes and posts on social media say it best. A young boy who lost a tooth sent both his teeth and his tooth fairy money, $6, to Bruno’s recovery fund. Some sent blankets and toys. There were notes from “dogs” who offered to play with Bruno after he recovers. A local senior center donated $10 to help Bruno plan for his retirement years. For performing his duty, Bruno is credited with saving the lives of three officers. His resilient spirit has been remarkable. Steven Dunbar, DVM said that if a person had received the same injuries as Bruno, they might have been in a coma for weeks. According to Officer Young, “He is part of my team, my partner, my boy. I’m so overwhelmed that so many people see him as an Anaheim police officer and part of this community’s team. I couldn’t be more proud of my boy…He did his job perfectly…Myself and other officers went home that day because of him.”

Watch the ABC News video on Bruno’s story here.

Friends of the Anaheim Police Facebook page.

Xander - Therapy Dog ACE Award Honoree


Xander The little blind Pug arrived at Klamath Animal Shelter in early January 2013. The young dog had lost his sight due to an accident in puppyhood and now had lost his home, too. Volunteers were cleaning him up for an adoption event when a local dog trainer saw him and immediately adopted him into a family of six other Pugs and a Chocolate Lab. Rodney and Marcie Beedy named him Xander and realized he would make a great therapy dog because of his calm demeanor along with his outgoing disposition. Xander excelled at training and soon passed his A.K.C. Good Citizen Test and became a registered Pet
Partner’s Therapy Dog. He is in great demand now with Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting®, Klamath-Lake Child Abuse Response Evaluation Services, Sky Lakes Medical Center Guild, Klamath Hospice, and various nursing homes. Xander comforts abused children and visits school classes, local events and childcare centers. He attended an event with around 500 children and, according to Rodney, “let people touch and love him from the first one to the last.” Without his eyesight, Xander seems to have an extraordinary ability to sense children in need. At the Klamath Basin Potato Festival, Rodney was walking with Xander when they heard a child crying. “Xander began pulling me toward the child. I followed and he comforted her.” While Xander can ramp up for a group of children, he can also quiet down for more serious work. He visits hospital patients as the first four-legged Sky Lakes Hospital Guild member. Rodney says, “Xander just adjusts to the circumstances; I don’t have to say anything. He is the most connecting dog I’ve ever met, and he will connect with anyone.” At the hospital, Xander often visits hospice patients. He will lie quietly beside them and let them pet his face (something he usually doesn’t prefer).

Xander has accomplished a great deal in the past year and he has been recognized for his service. Recently he was given the prestigious award “Purple Hands Pledge Ambassador” for the international organization Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project®. A number of news organizations have featured his good work, including CNN, Buzz Feed, Huffington Post, Ladies Home Journal, and our local Herald and News. Animalist News interviewed him and he was named the third most important pug in the nation (and the only one working as a therapy and service pet). The community where Xander lives needs the inspiration he can provide. Located in rural southern Oregon, Klamath County has one of the highest child abuse rates in the state. Poverty and unemployment levels are high, but people are very open to the message of hope Xander brings. Rodney estimates that Xander has touched the lives of more than two thousand people in Klamath County this past year and thousands more around the globe, including Holland, Italy, Spain, England, Canada,
Argentina, and China.

Check out this E! Online’s special feature of Xander here.

Xander’s Facebook page.

Gander - Service Dog ACE Award Honoree


Gander was on death row when rescued by a prison training program. His inmate now released and living a productive life, credits Gander with keeping her alive and focused. Gander was further trained in Denver and given to Lon Hodge, a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD and autoimmune mobility issues. For years he struggled with debilitating depression, panic attacks, and PTSD subsequent to the horrors he witnessed while enlisted. Within two weeks of receiving Gander, Lon’s resting heart rate of two years dropped from 120 to 80 and has stayed there. Lon experienced a tremendous transformation that has dramatically improved his ability to be in social surroundings and interact with the community. Today you will find Lon and Gander dedicating their time and energy to raising awareness about PTSD, the shockingly high suicide rates among veterans, and the profound effect service dogs can have on the lives of trauma survivors (vets and non-vets alike). Lon now has a nonprofit organization called Service Dog Education and Assistance Foundation where he and Gander educate communities all over the world. Lon credits Gander with not only saving his life but with saving the lives of hundreds of others though social media, hospital visits and veteran’s advocacy. Together they’ve visited over 300 schools, nursing homes, hospices and veterans gatherings. Last December, together with well- known handlers and writers, Lon had an anthology of dog stories published called “In Dogs We Trust.” The book has risen over $30,000 for Wounded Warrior access programs and all the authors came together because of a common bond with Gander. You can learn more about the both of them on Gander’s Facebook page,where he has nearly a quarter of a million followers.

Watch Chicago Tonight’s interview with Lon Hodge and Gander here.

Gander’s Facebook Page.

ACE 2014 Honorable Mention

Exemplary Companion

Left to right: Amber, owned by Otis Orth; Troy, owned by Harry Papazian; Davy, owned by Irene Dumas; Mighty Shakira, owned by John D Forsyth; Radar, owned by Susanne Shelton.

Service Dog

Left to right: Atlas, owned by Kenny Bass; Cranberry, owned by Janine Prindle; Honey, owned by Michael Gaither; Rolo, owned by Ashley Hammock; Gulf Coast’s Ch. Zeus, owned by Christine Thomas-Lamont.

Search and Rescue

Left to right: Andor, owned by Pam Burns; Bond, owned by Janell Mayberry; Spring, owned by Christina Bunn; Buster, owned by Paul Dostie; Beau, owned by Barbara Harding.

Uniformed Services K-9

Left to right: Amigo, owned by Julie Gibbs; Jasper, owned by Jim Geary; Marlin, owned by Jason Klingensmith; Rocco, owned by Officer Jeff Harper; Rocky, owned by Giovanni Morella.

Therapy Dog

Left to right: Bailey T. Martinez, owned by Cynthia Martinez; Charley, owned by Jerry Nickell; Bluegrass Gentleman Jeb, owned by Melia Newton; Cirra, owned by Robyn Douglas & Denise Houseknecht; Cooper, owned by Tina Roe.