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The Washington Post

For Select 7, This Dog Day Is Sublime

By Maha Al-Azar

August 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. 

From left, Crazy Joe of New York, Popeye XVII of Puerto Rico and Arthos of Germany were among seven dogs given a Canine World Heroes Tribute and enrolled in the Humane Society of the United States hall of fame.
(PHOTO: Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

It was a tribute, complete with medals, introductions honoring a life of outstanding service, and a crowd of reporters and camera crews zooming in on the finalists.

The seven service dogs awarded a Canine World Heroes Tribute last week accepted their medals without fanfare. Only Popeye XVII, a basset hound from Puerto Rico – whose sad face brings laughter to children and adults at hospitals and schools in Puerto Rico, responded with hearty woofs after a medal was placed around his neck.

The dogs -- from the United States, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Mexico -- now have their own hall of fame outside the Humane Society of the United States headquarters on 21st and L streets NW. Their names and paws have been imprinted for posterity in cement, a Hollywood touch for canine heroes.

They all shared one thing in common, according to Commissioner Robert C. Bonner of the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the new Department of Homeland Security. "Every day, they display an amazing amount of strength, dedication and bravery," said Bonner.

The tribute, a result of the Paws to Recognize program sponsored by Pedigree Food for Dogs and in association with Wal-Mart, highlights the service of dogs, whether sniffing out drugs, rescuing those in danger, guiding the blind or comforting the sick.

Melissa Rubin, vice president of field and disaster services at the Humane Society, said the organization got involved to highlight the fact that many service dogs come from animal shelters.

Crazy Joe, the U.S. winner, has a typical rags-to-riches story, according to Bonner. He was recruited into the service in 1998 from an animal shelter in Georgia. A yellow Labrador retriever, Crazy Joe has come a long way: Aside from earning the Canine World Heroes Tribute, he has been credited with finding about $13 million worth of narcotics at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport since 2002.

Crazy Joe was among 12 national nominees selected by a group of organizations, including the Humane Society, the National Association for Search and Rescue, the Delta Society, Guide Dogs for the Blind and U.S. Customs, which worked with Pedigree on the program. A four-member panel later narrowed the choices down to six U.S. finalists. The winner was selected by popular vote on the Pedigree Web site. About 30,000 votes were cast in three months of online balloting that ended July 15.

Dogs from other countries were selected by vote or nominated.

"Crazy Joe wanted me to make sure everyone knows that he considers it an honor just to have been nominated for this award, and that he was humbled to be grouped with such talented canines," said Bonner. "That sentiment shows not only his great character; it also shows that he could probably be a successful politician, despite the fact that he doesn't know how to talk . . . or even how to ask for money."

During their stay in Washington, the dogs and their handlers were treated to a cocktail reception at the Wyndham City Center Hotel. Some dogs spent a day sight-seeing, and Gemma, a border collie from the United Kingdom, had her picture taken in front of the Washington Monument.

Outside the Humane Society headquarters, the dogs were equally well-behaved when the mob of reporters and photographers descended on them

Alice Nathanson, who works for Pedigree and who developed the Paws to Recognize program, did not reveal stories of budding romance among the dogs. But she did say that they have "formed lifelong friendships."

"The dogs are terrific," she said. "All of them have their p's and q's figured."

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