American Humane’s Hero Dog Awards has a straightforward though by no means easy mission: honour the country’s most courageous canines.

“We celebrate the incredible bond between dogs and people and share their amazing stories,” says Robin Ganzert, American Humane President and CEO. “This inspiring event is our way of honouring ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things, from shelter dogs who get a second chance to make a difference to service dogs who improve our lives.” 

This year, 360 amazing dogs were nominated. After nearly half a million votes from across the U.S., 21 courageous canines advanced to the semi-final rounds. Modern Dog has chosen three of them, all in the Service Dog category, to profile here. Warning: You’ll likely want to grab the tissues and hug your dog. 

Tune in to the Hallmark Channel this October, when the finalists will be announced during a two-hour special. The broadcast airs in conjunction with the network’s Adoption Ever After initiative, which aims to empty dog shelters and end the epidemic of pet homelessness.

“Our goal is not only to honour these magnificent dogs,” says philanthropist and Hero Dogs presenting sponsor Lois Pope, “but to inspire America to reflect on the outsized contributions that animals make in our lives each and every day.”

american humane hero dog awards

Whitney Braley + Banner, Menlo, GA

“Banner is a medical/psychiatric service dog. She started her journey at eight weeks old and we have trained long and hard to get to where we are today. She is also an advocate against breed discrimination in the service dog world, showing that any breed CAN be a service dog. My post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is from childhood physical, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence from a past marriage. I couldn’t handle crowds, going to the grocery store was terrifying, and I couldn’t go to my kids’ school functions due to the anxiety and PTSD episodes. Banner gave me freedom. Banner gave me confidence. I’m able to live a semi-normal existence now and I don’t have to have another human accompany me on errands. I was even able to start going to comic conventions, which is something I NEVER thought I could enjoy! Sometimes there are things we can’t say to other humans out of fear of being locked away due to toxic thoughts. I’ve survived suicide. Banner doesn’t judge me. She’s always there for me, an anchor to reality, trying to keep me in this world instead of my painful memories. I think she deserves this. She deserves everything. No one would suspect that she’s a daily hero.”—Whitney Braley

“My dog has changed my life by giving me the ability to live my life. She has given me the will to continue fighting and she has made my life worth living.”

Joey Ramp + Sampson, Foosland, IL

“In 2006, an accident left me with 23 broken bones and a Traumatic Brain Injury. A survivor of childhood abuse and an 18-year abusive marriage, I also had invisible scars made worse by the darkness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I lost everything that had meaning until I met Sampson through Paws Giving Independence. With his ‘this is the best day ever’ attitude, instead of choosing suicide, I went to college to study neuroscience, hoping to help others with PTSD/TBI. Sam has been my strength as a service dog in a field filled with barriers. He is the first service dog to gain access to most academic and research laboratories at the University of Illinois. With Sam as the ambassador for service dogs in academia, we have promoted policy change nationwide, stood up to discrimination, bureaucracy, and closed-door committees on university campuses, spoken to dozens of organizations, brought international attention to help end discrimination in academia, taken legal steps to end disability discrimination in science, gained the support of international biosecurity officials, assisted in the development of training protocols for university faculty on service dog etiquette, and helped develop a non-profit organization to assist scientists with disabilities: The International Alliance for Ability in Science. Sam and I have work ahead of us. One paw print at a time, walking with the canine miracle that saved my life, I can look behind us now without seeing only ghosts and shadows. I see positive change.”—Joey Ramp

“My dog has given me the independence to complete a degree in neuroscience, [allowing me to] understand my own condition, rebuild my life, [and also] assist others with PTSD and brain injury.”


Antonio Reese + Alice, Nicholasville, KY

In 2015, Antonio was a normal, playful nine-year old who loved soccer and his friends. Then, on a normal day, while riding in the back of his parents’ SUV with his younger brothers on the way to a family dinner, a man fired three to five bullets into their car and shot him in the head. Since that day Antonio has been fighting the battle of a lifetime. He spent 18 days in a coma and has endured five brain surgeries. Nearly four years later, an artificial skull covers half of Antonio’s brain, because a seizure causing a fall could be fatal. Antonio not only battles seizures, but migraines, balance issues, spells, and more. In October of 2016, Antonio was paired with his service dog, Alice, from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs in Florida. His mom, Tara, says, ‘Alice is a hero in our eyes, because without her, Antonio would not be able to do the simple things in life that we take for granted.’ Going to school, the store, or even just a walk outside would be impossible for him. Never once has Alice failed to alert to an oncoming seizure or “spell” and she assists him with his balance issues. Alice has given Antonio the chance at a new normal life he couldn’t have had without her. She is a loyal and loving hero every day. She’s saved Antonio’s life many times. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is. She is his guardian angel and helps him live his new normal to the fullest extent possible.

“She has given me a chance at a new normal life and I know she has my back always. I love her.”