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2012 AKC Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) Winners

Keahi, Search & Rescue
By Langley Cornwell

The American Kennel Club has a deep respect for the canine-human bond and the extraordinary ways in which dogs contribute to people’s lives. Inspired to formalize their appreciation for this symbiotic relationship, in 1999 they started The AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE), and had their first presentation year in 2000.

For a dog to qualify, he must have done something that benefited an individual or a community. The dogs do not have to be AKC registered for this award; mixed breeds are given equal consideration. The AKC presents one award per year in these five categories: Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement, Service, Therapy, and Exemplary Companion Dog. The 2012 ACE winners each received an engraved silver collar medallion and a check for $1,000 at a presentation ceremony in Florida on December 15th. The winners for this year are:

Search and Rescue

A seven-year-old Belgian Tervuren named Keahi is one of Arizona Search Track and Rescue’s most valuable assets. Certified in air-scent, avalanche, cadaver, evidence and human-remains searches, this dog’s services have helped search and rescue efforts in nine states and Canada. Keahi and her owner/handler Kristi Smith conduct around 43 searches per year.

Smith and Keahi have led investigators to the bodies of murder victims and drowning victims (including one who was found 170 feet underwater), found wandering seniors and lost children, and discovered crucial evidence in criminal investigations.

Law Enforcement

K-9 Kirby, Law Enforcement
A German shepherd named Kirby, the Narc with a Bark, is a valuable member of the Bensalem Township Police Department in Pennsylvania. The past six years have seen Kirby working on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s task force.

Kirby and her handler, Detective Christine Kelliher, are on the front lines, defending against illegal drugs entering the tri-state area of eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. They’re doing a remarkable job – Kirby has discovered over $70,000,000 in drugs and drug-money to date.


Pilot, Service Dog
Pilot is a breed pioneer – this mobility assistance dog’s award marks the first time a Kuvasz has won an ACE. Ann Scott Arnold of Frankfort, MI suffers chronic pain and dizziness from neck and shoulder injuries that render her unable to lift or carry anything weighing over five pounds.

Pilot enriches Arnold’s life by doing many of the tasks she is incapable of doing; the dog can carry a 15-pound load in his backpack, pull a shopping cart full of groceries, drag a hundred pounds of gardening supplies on a plastic sled and pull laundry up the basement stairs in a duffel bag. Furthermore, Pilot is a stable companion who can be leaned on, literally, when Arnold feels dizzy.

This sweet dog’s favorite command, however, is “visit,” which means he can accept the pats and hugs of the new friends he makes wherever he goes.


Benny, Therapy Dog
A former champion show-dog, Benny the nine-year-old Rottweiler has earned the AKC Therapy Dog title (THD) and an AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. The dog and his owner, Kelly Skiptunas of Wrightsville, PA, have logged more than 250 hours of service visits to hospitals and schools.

The READ-certified Benny is a favorite of the children who participate in “read to a dog” programs at local libraries. Additionally, this dog has appeared at community-education events, on public TV as a goodwill ambassador for his breed and his service. He’s also been honored twice by the American Rottweiler Club.

These are amazing accomplishments but even more amazing is the fact that Benny had a debilitating battle with osteosarcoma and now wears a brace on his weakened leg. This trooper has not let cancer keep him from doing what he loves most: bringing happiness and comfort to people.

Exemplary Companion

Joy, Exemplary Companion
When the Sharpes brought their new Akita puppy home, their expectation was simply to raise a fluffy, loving family pet. Everything was going according to plan until Joy (the puppy) started reacting strangely to Terry Sharp. Joy would whine and pace when Terry was near, circling him and bumping her head into his lap with urgency. She even quit eating and began acting depressed. Terry went for a regular checkup and received the news that he had advanced prostate cancer. He underwent successful radiation treatment and when he was cured, Joy began acting normal.

Months later Joy started acting oddly towards Priscilla so she went straight to the doctor. The doctor found cancerous polyps on Priscilla’s colon, which were successfully removed. Once she was cancer-free, Joy acted like herself again.

Then last year, Joy began alerting on Priscilla again and it turned out the dog could identify when Priscilla, a diabetic, was experiencing dangerously low blood sugar, much like the dogs I wrote about in this article: Diabetic Alert Dogs. This dog started as a family pet and went on to reveal a mysterious life-saving ability that science still does not fully understand.

All photos: Courtesy American Kennel Club

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