American Humane Association Honors 2- and 4-Legged Heroes

Dr. Eva DeCozio and veterinary technician Signe Corbin win inaugural awards at the annual Hero Dogs ceremony.

Dr. Eva DeCozio, left, and Signe Corbin.

American Humane Association

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An Arizona veterinarian who serves low-income clients and a Texas veterinary technician who co-founded Pug Rescue of Austin were honored Sunday during the expanded Hero Dog Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The first-ever Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Technician awards were presented to Eva DeCozio, DVM, of VCA Apache Junction in Higley, Ariz., and to Signe Corbin, who in addition to her charity work is employed at Westlake Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas.

Drug maker Zoetis Inc. of Florham Park, N.J., sponsored the two new awards.

Public online voting selected Dr. DeCozio and Corbin from among five finalists in each category.

DeCozio is the medical director at VCA Apache Junction and co-founder of the nonprofit group Panacea Animal Wellness Sanctuary.

“Never one to turn away a someone if they are unable to pay for their pet’s care, Dr. DeCozio was nominated because of her propensity for helping as many creatures as she can,” according to her profile prepared by the American Humane Association, which organizes the Hero Dog Awards. “The co-founder of the Panacea Animal Wellness Sanctuary, she has brought in hundreds of animals who might have been euthanized in other shelters, treats them and helps adopt them out to new forever homes.”

The Oklahoma State University graduate was happy to share the honor.

“This award is a credit to my family, my community, my clients, my patients and, of course, my technicians,” she said. “I want to dedicate this award to everyone involved in our rescue group who helped make this dream of creating a nonprofit a reality.”

More than 600 rescued Pugs have received medical care because of Corbin’s work as co-founder and medical director of Pug Rescue of Austin, the American Humane Association reported. Corbin organizes the annual Pug Tune-up, a fundraising event that includes nail trimming and ear cleaning.

“This is the highlight of a 30-year career taking care of animals,” Corbin said.

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Among the other finalists were:

  • Veterinarian: Paul Bingham, DVM, of Arrowhead Veterinary Hospital in Fruita, Colo.; Lesli Groshong, DVM, chief of shelter medicine at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, Colo.; Richard Teague, DVM, of Farmers Veterinary Hospital in Richmond, Va.; and Christa Williams, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, of Caravan Vet in Minneapolis.
  • Veterinary technician: Abayomi Clark of San Antonio; Mary Fee of Bean Station, Tenn.; Genesis Rendon of Los Angeles; and Erin Searfoss of Denver.

The Hero Dog Awards, now in their fourth year, were established to recognize deserving canines in eight categories.

The top winner, both overall and in the therapy dog category, was Susie, who went from being beaten and set on fire as a puppy to visiting schools, hospitals and churches as a messenger of kindness, respect and responsibility.

The pit bull mix was adopted by Donna Lawrence of High Point, N.C., who was an abuse victim herself.

“Together, they helped each other heal from their physical and emotional wounds, triumphing over pain and fear to become voices for abused animals and helping pass ‘Susie’s Law’ in North Carolina, which calls for harsher penalties for convicted animal abusers,” the American Humane Association stated.

The other winners, selected through public voting and a judging panel, were:

  • Arson Dog: Kai, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever who works with the San Antonio Fire Department.
  • Emerging Hero Dog: Xena of Johns Creek, Ga., a pit bull who recovered from severe health issues before being adopted into a family with an autistic boy. “Before, the child had closed himself off to the world, but the arrival of Xena sparked something in the child, and now he went from once silent to constantly singing to and chatting with Xena,” the American Humane Association noted.
  • Guide/Hearing Dog: Xxon of Bloomfield, Conn., who assists Michael Malarsie, a retired U.S. Air Force sergeant who was blinded in Afghanistan in 2010.
  • Law Enforcement Dog: Kota of Winchester, Va., a police K-9 who suffered a broken leg during the apprehension of a burglary suspect.
  • Military Dog: Chaney of Waverly, Iowa, a now-retired Labrador retriever who sniffed out bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan during his career with the U.S. Marine Corps. He now works with Retrieving Freedom, a nonprofit group that trains service dogs for disabled military veterans and autistic children.
  • Search and Rescue Dog: Bretagne of Cypress, Texas, who was deployed to the World Trade Center after 9/11, to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and to the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005. She now shows up at elementary schools to motivate students to read.
  • Service Dog: JJ Krawczyk of Apex, N.C., who detects when reactions are about to occur in a girl who suffers from mastocytosis and then alerts her parents.
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The Hero Dog Awards ceremony, hosted by actor James Denton and animal advocate Beth Stern, will be broadcast Oct. 30 on the Hallmark Channel.

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