Ten remarkable animals and people, including a piano-playing cat and the task force who participated in the largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history, were honored for their heroic deeds at the ASPCA Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City. The ASPCA Annual Humane Awards Luncheon, sponsored by The Hartville Group, was held on Thursday, October 29th at the newly-renovated Pierre Hotel in New York City. The ceremony recognized animal heroes that have demonstrated extraordinary efforts, as well as individuals who made a significant impact in the lives of animals during the past year. "The ASPCA is proud to honor those who have demonstrated extraordinary compassion, bravery and commitment to furthering the human-animal bond," said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. "The Humane Awards celebrates the important role that animals play in our lives." Following a nationwide call to the public for nominations, an ASPCA-appointed committee reviewed hundreds of entries and selected winners in seven specific categories.
The 2009 ASPCA Humane Award winners were:
ASPCA Dog of the Year
A true four-legged hero, Archie was a black Labrador Retriever who served as an assistance dog and social lifeline for Sergeant Clay Rankin. Sgt. Rankin suffered spinal injuries while serving in Iraq, and Archie was his primary caregiver and social safety net. This selfless pooch was trained by Patriot Paws, a Rockwall, Texas-based organization that works with service dogs and matches them with disabled veterans. Archie was the first canine graduate of the Army Wounded Warriors Program, which assists and advocates for seriously wounded, ill and injured soldiers, veterans and their families. Archie's unerring loyalty and perseverance in helping Sgt. Rankin accomplish his daily tasks had allowed the veteran to regain his confidence and independence, move forward with his life and continue serving the country he loves. We are sad to announce Archie passed away shortly after receiving the ASPCA Dog of the Year Award. Our condolences go out to Sergeant Rankin and the many others whose lives have been touched by Archie.
ASPCA Cat of the Year
When Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow visited an animal shelter in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, they never imagined they would adopt a feline prodigy. Nora, a grey tabby named after the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, seemed to be your average mischievous young feline, until one day when her unwitting pet parents discovered the kitty's secret gift. Betsy, who teaches piano lessons in her home, was startled by the sight of Nora delicately tickling the ivories of her Yamaha. Playing the piano soon became the cat's favorite pastime, and before long, her sensitive pawing of the keys became a YouTube sensation, drawing more than 14 million page views, and inspired a Lithuanian composer to arrange a symphony in her honor. Nora is a talented example of how shelter pets, far from being castoffs, often make the best animal companions.
ASPCA "Tommy P. Monahan" Kid of the Year
Monica Plumb has always loved animals. In 2008, the 11-year-old sixth grader at Pocahontas Middle School in Powhatan County, Virginia, decided to make a real difference after seeing a news story about a family pet who was saved from a house fire, largely thanks to the use of an oxygen mask designed specifically for animals. Monica began collecting donations to purchase pet masks for her local fire department. The idea took off, and the resourceful girl eventually raised enough money to purchase masks for every station in her county. Soon after, Monica and her parents launched PetMask.com to collect online donations, and have since purchased more than 50 mask kits for fire stations in nine different states. Monica is truly an inspiration for other young people and a beacon for those who cannot speak for themselves. This award is dedicated to Tommy P. Monahan, a 9-year-old Staten Island boy who perished in 2007 trying to save his pets from a house fire.
ASPCA Firefighter of the Year
Chief Mark Duff and members of the Hingham Fire Department were renowned for their bravery and commitment to saving the lives of animals. In February 2009, they, along with multiple agencies, participated in the rescue of a two-year-old black Labrador Retriever named Olly. Chasing after a flock of geese, the unlucky pooch fell through thin ice into the frigid waters of Hingham Harbor. Firefighter Jim Sheard was one of the heroes on the scene. He donned a cold water rescue suit to attach himself to the suffering pup, while his fellow firefighters pulled the two of them to safety on shore. Olly was transported to a nearby animal hospital, and thanks to the noble efforts of the Hingham Fire Department, now has a second lease on life.
ASPCA Law Enforcement Officers of the Year
On July 8, 2009, the ASPCA participated in a massive dog fighting raid, the largest federal crackdown on dog fighting in U.S. history. The raid spanned eight states, including Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi, and resulted in the rescue of more than 400 dogs and nearly 30 arrests. Absolutely key to the success of the raid were the efforts of Tim Rickey and Kyle Held of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) and undercover agents Sergeant Terry Mills and Sergeant Jeffrey Heath of the Missouri Highway Patrol. As director of HSMO's Animal Cruelty Task Force, Rickey spearheaded the operation along with cruelty investigator Kyle Held, and collaborated with many agencies and organizations to seize the 400 dogs. Sgt. Mills and Sgt. Heath worked tirelessly and selflessly in the months leading up to the raid to gather evidence for the prosecution. The bravery and tenacity of these four individuals not only meant a second chance for countless dogs, but also served as a giant step forward in the effort to end animal cruelty nationwide.
ASPCA Henry Bergh Award
Alayne Marker and Steve Smith founded the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Ovando, Montana, in December 2000. Their mission was to turn 160 acres of open grassland and cottonwoods into a sanctuary for animals with special needs, those pets who are least likely to be adopted and most likely to be euthanized in traditional shelters. The ranch is now home to approximately 70 animals. Residents include blind dogs, blind horses, deaf dogs, blind cats, three-legged dogs and cats and others with medical problems like muscular dystrophy.
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Marker first met Smith while she was walking her dog, Spats, on the trails of Cougar Mountain near Seattle. The couple worked for the Boeing Company until 2000, when they relocated to Montana full time to devote themselves to animal rescue. According to the couple, their chief inspiration is seeing a group of animals, who want nothing more than a chance to enjoy life, run and romp around the ranch as if their disability was the last thing on their minds.
ASPCA Lifetime Achievement Award
Richard O'Barry has been exposed to both sides of the dolphin world. In the 1960s, he worked for the Miami Seaquarium, where he trained many of the sensitive mammals for the role of Flipper in the popular American TV series, "Flipper". When Kathy, the dolphin who most often played the part, died in his arms, O'Barry had a life-altering change of heart and realized that he could no longer support the capturing and training of dolphins, who thrive best on open water.
O'Barry's about-face led to a lifelong crusade to free dolphins and educate the world about the plight of dolphins in captivity. In 1970, he founded the Dolphin Project and launched a campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin industry. He has rescued and released more than 25 captive dolphins in Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas and the United States. In 1991, he received the Environmental Achievement Award presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program (US/UNEP). His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989, and a second book, To Free a Dolphin, was published in September 2000. In January 2007, O'Barry became the Marine Mammal Specialist for the Earth Island Institute and Director of Save Japan Dolphins (www.SaveJapanDolphins.org). He is currently the subject of an award-winning documentary, The Cove, which chronicles an effort to expose the truth about dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan.