ASPCA Announces 2015 Humane Award Winners

A heroic guide dog, passionate documentarian, and a group of resilient kittens are among those to be honored at annual luncheon
October 28, 2015

NEW YORK, N.Y.—A group of exceptional animals and people – including a courageous guide dog, a 12-year-old girl dedicated to improving her local animal shelter, and a population of neonate kittens – will be honored at this year’s ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City. The ceremony recognizes animal heroes who have demonstrated extraordinary efforts, as well as individuals who have shown great commitment to animal welfare during the past year.

“The 2015 Humane Awards honorees exemplify perseverance and incredible dedication to helping both animals and their owners – reminding us of the value animals bring to our lives, and the loving protection we owe them in return,” said ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker. “We hope these stories will inspire more people to support victimized and vulnerable animals in their own communities.”

The ASPCA’s annual Humane Awards Luncheon is sponsored by the Hartville Pet Insurance Group, Inc., one of America’s oldest pet health insurers and provider of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. This special event will be held on Thursday, November 12, 2015, from noon to 2 p.m. at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City.

Following a nationwide public call for nominations, an ASPCA-appointed committee reviewed hundreds of entries and selected winners in six categories. The 2015 ASPCA Humane Award winners are:

ASPCA® Dog of the Year
Brewster, N.Y.

Last June, a Golden Retriever guide dog named Figo was helping his blind owner, Audrey Stone, cross a major street in Brewster, New York. As they did, a bus quickly and dangerously approached. Acting as much on his innate courage as his Guide Dog Foundation training, Figo immediately put himself in the path of the bus, sustaining a severe injury but protecting Audrey.

Despite getting hurt, Figo did not leave his owner’s side until help arrived. While Audrey mended in the hospital, Figo recovered at a local veterinarian’s office, with the cost of his treatment picked up by an anonymous benefactor. Weeks later, the two were joyously reunited.

ASPCA Cat of the Year:
The Kittens of the ASPCA Kitten Nursery
New York City, N.Y.

This year, the ASPCA Cat of the Year is not just one outstanding feline, but many: a group of determined young kittens who, without homes or families, face extraordinary peril because of the dedicated care they require just to stay alive. These are the residents of the ASPCA Kitten Nursery, New York City’s first high-volume nursery to provide care for kittens too young to survive on their own.

Every feline breeding season, this facility takes in up to 2,000 extremely vulnerable kittens – some as young as two weeks old. These orphans, who come from Animal Care Centers of New York (ACC), are kept warm, bathed, and hand-fed around the clock by a committed staff of 50 who are specifically trained to handle this fragile population.

These Cats of the Year may not realize the challenges they overcome every day, but through the heroism of caregivers and the general public, they are given an opportunity to move from lives of danger to safe and loving homes.

ASPCA® Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award
Abbigail Hickman
Tracy, Calif.

The winner of the 2015 ASPCA® Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award is twelve-year-old Abbigail “Abbi” Hickman. When she was only 9, Abbi was disheartened by the conditions she discovered at the local shelter she visited to adopt a kitten. Determined to help – and utilizing her already extensive bowling experience – she created “Abbi’s Pins for Pets".

Since 2013, Abbi and her organization have raised more than $30,000 for the shelter, and run an annual two-day "Abbi’s Pins for Pets" weekend to bring in more funds.

Abbi personally writes and visits local businesses and officials, asking them for support. And starting this year, every adopter at the Tracy Animal Shelter will receive a special “Abbi’s Pins for Pets” welcome kit, which includes pet supplies donated by local businesses.

Abbi, whose motto is “You need to believe in your cause and yourself,” has been recognized as the American Red Cross 2015 Animal Rescue Hero of the Year, and recently won a 2015 Nickelodeon Teen Halo Effect Award for her selfless devotion to animal welfare.

This award is dedicated to Tommy P. Monahan, a nine-year-old Staten Island boy who perished in a 2007 house fire trying to save his pet.

ASPCA® Media Excellence Award
Gorman Bechard
Hamden, Conn.

In 2012, after directing three critically acclaimed rock & roll documentaries, filmmaker, novelist and long-time animal advocate Gorman Bechard turned to one of his biggest personal passions – animal welfare -- for his next inspiration. His 2015 film “A Dog Named Gucci” tells the story of a puppy in Mobile, Ala. who was viciously abused and set on fire in 1994, as well as of a professor, Doug James, who stepped in to save the dog’s life and become his protector.

During his recovery, Gucci became the face of animal abuse in the South. Inspired to help prevent such cruelty in the future, Doug teamed up with local legislators to pass the "Gucci Bill", which made domestic animal abuse a felony in the state. Together, as documented in the film, Doug and Gucci prove that justice can be a dog's best friend.

The documentary also shares other animal cruelty cases and the protective laws they influenced, including the Nitro Law, Susie's Law, and the Louis Vuitton Law.

Since completing “A Dog Named Gucci”, Gorman has taken up producing other films focusing on animal welfare and inspiring others to join the fight against animal cruelty.

ASPCA® Presidential Service Award 
Dr. Jose Armando Cruz Rivera
Fajardo, Puerto Rico

The 2015 ASPCA Presidential Service Award is presented to Dr. Jose Armando Cruz Rivera, whose Cruz Veterinary Mobile Clinic provides spay and neuter services and preventative medical care to pets in low-income communities as well as to those without access to veterinary services in his native Puerto Rico. 

While working on his doctoral thesis, Dr. Cruz became acutely aware of the immense animal overpopulation crisis in Puerto Rico’s streets and shelters, which endangers the lives of these animals and threatens the spread of rabies. With unwavering determination, Dr. Cruz committed himself to making a difference, focusing on spay and neuter as an effective means towards addressing the challenge. 

In order to go where services were most needed and least accessible, Dr. Cruz created his mobile clinic in 2012. Today it provides services ranging from sterilizations and vaccinations to blood tests and dental cleanings. But alongside his direct care, Dr. Cruz also educates the community about the necessity of spay/neuter surgery and properly caring for pets, which are critical to keeping community animals where they are safest – at home.

ASPCA® Henry Bergh Award
Lori Hensley and Coalition to Unchain Dogs
Durham, N.C.

The 2015 ASPCA Henry Bergh Award goes to Lori Hensley and the Coalition to Unchain Dogs. Lori is the Director of Operations and Development for the Coalition, which has four chapters in North Carolina.

Founded in Durham in 2007 and focusing on underserved communities, the Coalition works to improve the welfare of vulnerable dogs living in these communities. The Coalition provides free spay/neuter services, vaccinations, pet care supplies, and fences for chained dogs, while bolstering connections between the dogs and their human companions. The non-judgmental assistance and critical information they provide elevates owners’ commitments to their pets as well as community standards of care.

Whether building or repairing fences, transporting dogs to and from veterinary appointments, or delivering critical supplies and medications, Lori Hensley and the volunteers of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs are providing important and beneficial resources in communities that need them most.