Hero Dog Awards Honor Pit Bull Mix That Inspired Law Against Abusing Animals

Erin Arsenault
Susie with Donna Smith Lawrence

The ceremony honoring animals used in rescue, by the military, by law enforcement, for service and therapy will air on the Hallmark Channel

Susie, a pit bull mix that was nearly burned to death but lived to inspire tougher laws to punish animal abuses in North Carolina has been proclaimed the American Human Association’s 2014 American Hero Dog.

Susie and her owner, Donna Smith Lawrence of High Point, North Carolina, were on hand at The Fourth Annual AHA Hero Dog Awards Saturday in Beverly Hills, which will air Oct. 30 on the Hallmark Channel.

Lawrence told the story of Susie, who in 2009 was found badly abused with severe burns on her body, her ears burned off and with a broken jaw and teeth. The dog was taken to an animal shelter and eventually adopted by Lawrence and her husband.

Lawrence had suffered from an attack by a pit bull that had a devastating impact on her life. Through caring for Susie, Lawrence was able to find new meaning and rebuild her life.

The man who set Susie on fire was sentenced to probation, which outraged a number of North Carolina residents. That led to the passage of Susie’s Law in 2010 which made it a low-level felony to abuse an animal, making the abuser subject to stiffer penalties and the possibility of jail time.

“Susie has become the voice for all animals across the United States,” Lawrence said in accepting the honor. “It’s been amazing.”

Susie’s story is the subject of an independent movie called Susie’s Hope that received a limited theatrical release earlier this year after winning awards at several festivals.

Susie has become a certified therapy dog who is regularly taken to schools, hospitals and elsewhere to warn about animal abuse and promote respect for animals.

At the Hero Dog Awards, Susie was on hand to receive the award in the category of “therapy dog.” She then competed with dogs in seven other categories, including arson dog, guide/hearing dog, law enforcement dog and search and rescue dog, to win the overall award as Hero Dog of the year.

The show in the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton was hosted by model Beth Stern (wife of radio personality Howard Stern) and James Denton, best known as the plumber on Desperate Housewives. Denton also stars in Hallmark’s Stranded In Paradise.

Stern, an animal activist, was also a host of Hallmark’s Kitten Bowl, which aired during halftime of the last Super Bowl, competing with the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.

When asked why her husband did not accompany her to Beverly Hills from their home in New York, Stern at first said he was home sleeping, because he wakes early to do his show on Sirius XM Radio. Then she asked the audience: “Do you want to know what Howard is really doing right now?”

She said that he was on “kitty duty,” taking care of their 15 cats.

Robin Ganzert, president/CEO of the AHA,  also announced the publication of the book Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actor, which she wrote with Allen and Linda Anderson.

The book promotes the 75th anniversary of the AHA’s “No Animals Were Harmed” program. It is the only industry-sanctioned organization to place representatives on movie and TV sets to ensure that animal actors are not abused.

Actor Gary Sinise was seen in a pre-recorded message promoting the Canine Battle Buddies Program, which reunites dogs used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere with American soldiers.

The presenters included Pauley Perrette (NCIS), Christina Ferrere (Hallmark’s Home & Family), Kellie Martin (Army Wives), Larry Miller (the doorman on Seinfeld), Bruce Boxleitner (Tron: Legacy), and Lacey Chabert (Party Of Five). The band Wilson Phillips played three songs.



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