ASPCA Announces 2016 Humane Award Winners

Sen. Bob Dole joins a courageous emotional support dog, a life-saving cat, and a history-making pit bull as honorees at annual luncheon
October 18, 2016

NEW YORK – A group of remarkable and heroic animals and people – including Sen. Bob Dole, Ruthie, a loyal emotional support dog, Blake, a cat who saves his owner from deadly seizures, and Kiah, the first “pit bull” police dog in the state of New York– will be honored by the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) at this year’s 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.

“These awards recognize not just the heroism of particular animals, individuals, and organizations, but the incredible bond between people and their animals,” said ASPCA president and CEO Matt Bershadker. “That connection between people and pets is so strong that when you commit to helping one, you’re almost certainly helping the other. The accomplishments of these honorees demonstrate how much can be achieved when we recognize and support those ties.”

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. Additional support has also been provided by West Elm and the Plaza Hotel. This special event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, 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 eight categories. The 2016 ASPCA Humane Award winners are:

ASPCA® Dog of the Year


Northbrook, Ill.

Most comfort dogs work in hospitals or other care centers, helping people cope with everyday stresses. But Ruthie, a golden retriever, has been called to service during some of the nation’s most tragic and devastating events, including the Orlando nightclub shooting, the shooting of police officers in Dallas, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Newtown school shooting, as well as tornadoes in Oklahoma and wildfires in California.

At those sites, Ruthie has provided relief to both victims and responders, keeping stress levels down, and providing comfort to grief-stricken survivors. Ruthie’s presence was particularly impactful during her six weeks in Newtown, the scene of the Sandy Hook tragedy, where she helped traumatized young girls and boys – who hadn’t spoken since the shootings – come out of their shells.

Because of her devotion to providing comfort and relief to those who need it most, Ruthie is the 2016 ASPCA Dog of the Year.

ASPCA® Cat of the Year


Fort Worth, Texas

Blake, a black cat in Fort Worth, Texas, had no idea what was in store for him when Glen Schallman walked into the Humane Society of North Texas last winter. Blake had been going through a tough time since being rescued from a hoarding situation and undergoing a host of veterinary procedures. But his life changed when Schallman, who suffers from three serious brain conditions and daily intense seizures, showed up simply looking for a new friend. Blake literally jumped up and down to get Schallman’s attention, and the two bonded immediately.

Schallman suffered a seizure the same day he brought Blake home, and Blake reacted by patting Schallman’s arm with his paws. A few days later, Blake proved he truly understood Schallman’s dilemma when Schallman had a life-threatening seizure while sleeping. Blake saved Schallman’s life by alerting him with a sharp bite to his toe. Schallman says that Blake has a sixth sense about detecting oncoming seizures and credits the cat with saving his life.

Because of his fierce loyalty and complete dedication to his owner, Blake is the 2016 ASPCA Cat of the Year.

ASPCA® Public Service Award

CPPD K9, Kiah

Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

In July 2015, the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department welcomed K9 Kiah, a new narcotics detection and missing persons tracking dog, to their ranks. The department has had several police dogs in the past, but unlike the typical police dog, Kiah is a rescued “pit bull” dog. As the first “pit bull” police dog in the state of New York, she has become a national sensation and is blazing a new path for other police departments and “pit bull” dogs around the country.

Before joining the City of Poughkeepsie PD, Kiah was a stray, found injured and abandoned in a parking lot. She was rescued by the staff of Kirby Animal Care Services in San Antonio, who quickly recognized her friendly demeanor and tireless energy. They reached out to Brad Croft, the trainer and founder of Universal K9, who facilitates a program funded by the Animal Farm Foundation to train rescued “pit bull” dogs for law enforcement work. After just a month of training, Kiah earned recognition as one of the most willing and dedicated law enforcement dogs Universal K9 has ever seen. Kiah was placed with Officer Justin Bruzgul at no cost to the City of Poughkeepsie PD, and in no time became his partner, his best friend and a beloved member of his family.

In addition to their regular beats, Kiah and Officer Bruzgul visit schools and conferences to educate the public about the importance of animal shelters and animal rescue. Kiah is also an ambassador for “pit bull” dogs nationwide, demonstrating that rescued “pit bull” dogs can perform the same law enforcement work traditionally reserved for other breeds, and that any dog can have amazing underlying potential.

For her service to the city and shattering stereotypes, Kiah is the recipient of the 2016 ASPCA Public Service Award.

ASPCA® Presidential Service Award

Senator Bob Dole
Washington, D.C.

With 35 years in Congress and experience as a decorated soldier, former Senator Bob Dole is well known for serving his country, but less well known is his lifelong service to animals in need.

In office, Dole – who for years came to work with his miniature schnauzer, Leader, at his side – championed humane legislation, advocated for animals in crisis, and brought critical attention to important animal issues. In 1974, after learning the U.S. Army experimented with toxic chemicals on beagles, Dole introduced a bill outlawing the practice. He championed important amendments to the Humane Slaughter Act, which mandated unprecedented humane standards and inspections for facilities producing meat for the public. In 1984, he was awarded the ASPCA Award for Humane Excellence for his consistent commitment to protecting animals in research and other vulnerable animals in the U.S.

Since his retirement from politics in 1996, the 93-year-old Dole has remained active in the animal welfare cause, advocating for a permanent ban on horse slaughter, protecting the pets of domestic violence victims, and condemning the barbaric treatment of farm animals at the USDA’s U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC). His advocacy helped encourage Congress to take action to ensure the facility’s compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. As recently as July, Dole graciously participated in a series of ASPCA events in Washington D.C. that showcase the selfless work of our nation’s animal shelters and the importance of passing key animal welfare legislation.

For a lifetime of compassion that has made a difference in countless animal lives, Senator Bob Dole is the recipient of this year’s ASPCA Presidential Service Award.

ASPCA® Henry Bergh Award

Norberto “Rob” Rosa and New Leash on Life USA

Philadelphia, Pa.

Norberto “Rob” Rosa’s determination to save animal lives began at a low point in his own. At age 18, Rosa was sentenced to prison for drug possession. While serving his time at a maximum security facility in Pennsylvania, Rosa volunteered to care for cows and horses on the property and also volunteered with Canine Partners for Life (CPL), a prison program that teaches inmates to train full-service dogs. From that moment on, helping and protecting animals in need became Rosa’s passion.

After his release in 2005, Rosa took a job with CPL as assistant to the executive director. Later that year, he took a job with Philadelphia Animal Care and Control (PACCA) as a kennel attendant and quickly worked his way up to become shelter manager, where he oversaw the health and safety of more than 30,000 animals annually. In subsequent years, Rosa worked at South Jersey-based Animal Welfare Association (AWA) and The Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia.

In these roles, Rosa was particularly interested in giving economically challenged families the opportunity to adopt homeless animals and care for them with the help of low-cost spay/neuter services and pet care counseling.

Today, Rosa connects his unique background with his passion and expertise in animal welfare as the associate vice president of prison programs for New Leash on Life USA (NLOL-USA), a program that connects inmates and animals to open doors of opportunity for each. In the five years since its founding, NLOL-USA has flourished thanks in large part to Rosa’s steadfast commitment and deep faith in the power of second chances.

Reflecting the unwavering dedication of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh, Rob Rosa is this year’s recipient of the 2016 ASPCA Henry Bergh Award.

ASPCA® Farm Animal Welfare Award

Jim Keen

Lincoln, Neb.

When Jim Keen saw atrocious animal abuse where he worked, he didn’t just walk away; he risked his livelihood working to expose it. As a veterinary researcher working at the U.S. Animal Meat Research Center – a taxpayer-funded institution outside of Omaha, Nebraska – Keen saw firsthand how many of the Center’s projects resulted in severe cruelty for animal subjects, and began meticulously documenting the abuses.

Among the many abuses Keen uncovered were pigs and cows giving birth to twice the normal number of offspring, resulting in weakened and deformed animals with very short life expectancies. He also documented newborn lambs deliberately left in open fields where they became fatal victims of predators, harsh weather conditions, or starvation.

After unsuccessful attempts to address the issues internally, Keen shared his story with Michael Moss at The New York Times. The resulting exposé, “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit,” created a public uproar and resulted in new legislation that would extend protections for farm animals used in federal research facilities.

Since the exposé, Keen has remained active in the animal welfare cause, advocating for greater regulation of farm animal research.

For his selfless commitment to ensuring the safety of farm animals, we are pleased to present Jim Keen with the 2016 ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Award.

ASPCA® Horse of the Year Award

Sutter, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary

Lompoc, Calif.

A stunning palomino stallion born in northwestern Nevada, Sutter was captured from public lands when he was barely two years old. Immediately following his capture, he was adopted to a private party through the Bureau of Land Management's horse adoption program. During that time, Sutter endured tremendous abuse, including being whipped and left tied up under a hot tarp, and kept from food and water. Traumatized by this experience, Sutter was deemed “dangerous” and returned to the Bureau of Land Management marked to be destroyed. He was fortunately rescued and cared for by the Heritage Discovery Center (HDC), who would be a future colleague of Return to Freedom

For months, Sutter was so traumatized that if anyone even walked nearby his enclosure, he would slam himself into walls, attempting to free himself. With time, patience, and loving care, Sutter learned to trust humans again, appearing at venues including the Rose Bowl Parade, where he safely carried a novice rider, as well as in a number of educational documentaries and clinics. 

When the HDC was forced to move and downsize in 2002, they contacted Neda DeMyo, founder of Return to Freedom, so that Sutter would find a safe forever home where he could continue to be an ambassador for wild horses through programs, clinics and events. Since that time Sutter has resided at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary, where he continues to not only thrive, but inspire equine awareness, rescue, and advocacy through his presence and story which is emblematic for tens of thousands of nameless and faceless wild stallions. 

Sutter loves to connect with people, and is a stirring ambassador for the dwindling number of horses who deserve our promised protection on public lands. Sutter also reminds us all that when we extend love to animals, we receive it back, multiplied.  For these reasons, Sutter is the 2016 ASPCA Horse of the Year.

ASPCA® Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award

Willow Phelps

Ringwood, N.J.

For half of her young life, nine-year-old Willow Phelps has devoted herself to helping a wide range of vulnerable animals including goldfish, orcas, abandoned chimpanzees, and homeless dogs and cats.

At home, she regularly fosters hospice animals, helping them live their final days in a loving and happy environment. Last year, she swam a mile to raise funds for a kitten who needed a leg amputation.

Some of her efforts are impressively creative, including sewing cat toys and selling them at a craft fair to raise funds for local homeless teens and pets. In one of her most well-known humane endeavors, Phelps successfully ended the use of live goldfish as prizes at her school carnival with the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a New Jersey law that prohibits the use of live animals as prizes without a special permit. Realizing this would reduce revenue for the school, Phelps raised $500 in a charity run to make up the difference.

Her deep commitment would be extraordinary for an adult advocate, much less someone in fourth grade.

For her outstanding accomplishments and ongoing devotion to animals in need, Willow Phelps is the 2016 ASPCA Kid of the Year.