Heros can have more than two legs. The American Humane Hero Dog Awards honors fearless, compassionate dogs who spend their lives helping other people. According to their website, “The American Humane Hero Dog Awards® is an annual, nationwide competition that searches out and recognizes America’s Hero Dogs – often ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things, whether it’s saving lives on the battlefield, lending sight or hearing to a human companion, or simply providing the tail-wagging welcome a pet owner relishes at the end of a hard day.” Aside from Guide/Hearing and Service dogs, there are five other categories that these heroes compete. Military dogs are canines who work with soldiers to perform work, including sniffing explosives and detaining aggressors.
They have teamed up with military personnel since World War I. This category is for military puppies, both active and retired. Search and Rescue Dogs work in natural disasters and missing person situations, search and rescue dogs work closely with rescue teams. Detection and endurance are among the skills they’ve learned. Shelter dogs have their distinction being a hero since many came from places like puppy mills and other deplorable situations. The last two categories are Law Enforcement/Detection and Therapy dogs. This year two amazing puppies from Millville, New Jersey, want to be honored in those categories. Both Cole and Hansel overcame unbelievable odds and have dedicated their lives to service. The Daily Journal dubbed the pair the “Cumberland Doggie Duo.” Cole works as an acceptance educator, and K-9 Hansel is an arson investigator. After completing the 2021 American Humane Hero Dogs Award Semi-Finals, their stories reached a broader audience.
The South Jersey Regional Animal dismissed Cole as “broken” because he was deaf. Luckily he caught the attention of Chris because he has a deaf nephew. He taught the Pitbull a modified version of American sign language and started The Team Cole Project. Deafdogsrock, a non-profit with a mission to help deaf dogs find forever homes, wrote about the Cole, “I was so touched by Cole’s daddy who is taking his deaf dog advocacy duties to the next level. Christopher Hannah visits local schools to not only educate children on special needs animals but also to promote how important it is to have empathy for others and build confidence in children by using a deaf dog to teach them that they can overcome their fears and do anything they set their minds to do.
What a powerful message he and Cole are sharing!” Chris Hannah didn’t shy away from adopting Cole. In fact, that was the reason he chose him. Thus began a fantastic odyssey of working with deaf children for over four years. Cole has been so inspirational; students who benefit from his story wrote a comic book called “The Adventures of Captain Cochlear and Maestro Mutt.” Aside from Instagram, he has his website where his human talks about the impact he has had on the lives of those around him, calling his disability a “superpower” and adding Cole is a deaf Pitbull pup, but he’s helping the world hear with their hearts!” Dr. Mennies School, where he works with Hannah and students, became the charter for an entire program of social-emotion learning in South Jersey schools. When he isn’t helping students, he spends his time at the Vinelands Veterans Memorial House, now dubbed their mascot. He is truly deserving of the distinction of therapy dog hero.
K-9 Hansel is competing for a hero in the Law Enforcement category. He and 20 other dogs awaited euthanization at two months old because they didn’t have an option besides fighting in an Ontario Pitbull fight club, even though Hansel never fought. Kenneltocouch posted a staggering statistic, according to Save-a Bull Rescue, “studies estimate that up to 1 million pits are euthanized per year, or 2,800 per day…[and] some estimates are up to double that number” Instead, Hansel became part of a two-year-long legal battle. Miraculously, he was able to enter the Throw Away Dogs Project. On their website they explain their mission, “We repurpose, train, and relocate “unique dogs” to positively impact our communities.” As luck would have it, Millville Fire Department needed an accelerant detection dog. Hansel and his partner, firefighter Tyler Van Leer, went through a 16-week training program Hansel is now trained to detect 14 different liquid orders.
Since he is the only pitbull certified to do this job, he is no stranger to fame. On CNN, Tyler Van Leer describe Hansel’s reaction to going to work, “He’s extremely excited,” Tyler Van Leer, a Millville firefighter, and Hansel’s handler, told CNN. ‘Are you ready to go to work?’ and bring out the harness, he starts doing laps around the crate.” Everyone in the firehouse loves Hansel. He’s not there only to serve; he is a true partner in the firehouse. Van Leer elaborated say “We are just inseparable,” adding “Everyone in the firehouse just loves him. He is just an awesome dog. I wouldn’t ask for any other dog.” Aside from his historic job as a K-9 arson detector, the dog is helping destigmatize Pitbulls, especially ones who unwillingly forced into fighting rings.
These amazing inspirations and 19 other dogs are ready to compete on a live broadcast scheduled to air this fall. Dogs like Cole and Hansel usually don’t get second chances because of owner cruelty or a disability. Chris Hannah’s vision to allow Cole and children to think beyond their disability has opened avenues for more dogs like Cole. Millville Fire Department is encouraging more departments to consider dogs like Hansel to take on similar roles because most Pitbulls who start their lives in fight rings are too dangerous to be in society. Thanks to the American Humane Hero awards, they are shining examples of why dogs shouldn’t be forgotten. Many dogs are not blessed to have these second chances, instead of abandoned by their owners or euthanized in shelters. Yet, when you see true heroes like these two, perhaps people will not be quick to judge a dog that seems too far beyond help to have a forever home.