He may not be the top hero dog in the nation, but Des Plaines service dog Zurich came home a winner from the American Humane Association 2011 Hero Dog Awards held Oct. 1 in Los Angeles.
For seven years, Zurich has been the constant companion of Des Plaines resident Patti Kennedy, who suffers from a rare degenerative brain stem disorder known as multiple system atrophy or Shy-Drager syndrome. The 65-year-old is confined to her power chair or bed most of the time and cannot move or speak.
Zurich was trained as a helper dog by Canine Companions for Independence.
The 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, who was among eight finalists selected out of more than 450 dogs nationwide, received a nearly 1 foot-high brass dog statuette as a trophy designed by world renowned sculptor Liza Todd-Tivey, said Kennedy's husband, Dion Luper.
Nearly a million votes were cast in the contest.
The nation's top Hero Dog Award for 2011 was posthumously given to Roselle, a guide dog who helped his handler get down the 1,463 stairs of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The statuette given to all the finalists is a tribute to the first responder dogs of Sept. 11, Luper said.
"It is just so hard to describe the experience we just went through," Luper said. "It was simply a once-in-a-lifetime event that excited every sense of sight, sound and emotion."
Luper said event attendees, celebrity judges and American Humane Association officials were overwhelmingly impressed and moved by Zurich and Kennedy's story.
"You could see the effort it took in their faces to hold back the tears, and knowing that they succeeded in exposing the underlying stories of our four-legged heroes," Luper said.
To view photos of contestants walking the red carpet, visit americanhumane.org.
A 90-minute special on the Hero Dog Awards will be broadcast on the Hallmark Channel at 7 p.m. Nov. 11.