She may only weigh four pounds, but she’s a Chihuahua with a huge heart and one very big job: Little MacKenzie was born with a cleft palate, and now spends her days providing affection and care for baby rescue animals born with birth defects.
The teeny pup with so much love to give away has now been recognized in a giant way: After more than a million votes by the American public and the deliberations of a panel of celebrity animal lovers and dog experts, MacKenzie has been named the country’s most heroic canine, besting 407 other competitors across the country and capturing the top title at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards, which was broadcast nationwide earlier this week on Hallmark Channel.
“The American Humane Hero Dog Awards were created to honor some of the world’s most extraordinary heroes,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “These heroic canines have gone above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives on the battlefield, comforting the ill and aged, and reminding us of the powerful, age-old bond between animals and people.”
Why did MacKenzie win? Contracting aspiration pneumonia which nearly took her life as a newborn, she’s a rescue who epitomizes what it means to be a hero, overcoming her birth defect and going on to help hundreds of other rescue animals and provide children with world-changing lessons in empathy.
Most of the rescued animals are babies who cannot stay with their mothers because of their medical problems.
MacKenzie takes an interest in each baby from day one, no matter the species or size. She plays nurse and cleans, comforts, and cuddles them. She acts as their mother and teaches them how to socialize, play, and have good manners.
It’s been said that MacKenzie could mother anything from an ant to an elephant, nurturing countless puppies, kittens, a goat, a turkey, a squirrel, birds, a mouse, and despite her tiny size, even a Great Dane.
MacKenzie’s other important role is to interact with children at schools, so they learn to be open-minded toward animals and people with physical differences. They learn kindness, patience, and that you can make a difference in the world no matter how small you are.
MacKenzie may have lost her ability to bark, but she still makes herself heard and speaks for other animals born with defects and she is a shining example of how rescuing animals often helps save more than just one life.
For her extraordinary good works, MacKenzie, who comes from Hilton, New York, first won the top title in her individual category, becoming the country’s Hero Shelter Dog of the Year, and then in the last round winning the American Humane Hero Dog Awards’ top title of 2020’s American Hero Dog.
Six other finalists were also named the nation’s top winners in their categories, and we salute them for their courage, service, and compassion.
Here are the official nominations alongside MacKenzie, as told by their handlers and owners:. We’ve also included some adorable photos of the hero dogs. Enjoy.
2020 Therapy Dog of the Year
Olive (Jefferson City, Missouri)
From hopeless and homeless to living her purpose, Olive was rescued from the streets of Los Angeles by Brandon McMillan, host and animal trainer of the Emmy Award-winning CBS show, Lucky Dog.
Lisa Groves Bax, a child advocate volunteer for abused/neglected children in the judicial system in Missouri, saw the need for a resource to assist the scores of children facing the daunting task of appearing or testifying in court.
Olive’s mission is to make sure that no child walks alone through the courtroom doors, and provides comfort throughout the unknown journey that the child faces against their abuser or neglecting adult, which in most cases is their very own parents. Olive has served more than 300 children since beginning in the court system in 2016, and continues to assist children with extremely difficult criminal trials in order to get a conviction against the abusers.
2020 Service Dog of the Year
Dolly Pawton (Naples, Maine)
Dolly Pawton is my cardiac alert dog, trained to alert if my blood pressure drops or heart rate rises to an unsafe level. Being confined to a wheelchair due to multiple medical conditions has been difficult, to say the least. At times, my body will physically not allow me to do everyday tasks.
I try to remain as active as my body will allow. With Dolly’s help I am able to do that. Before having a service dog, I went out very little but Dolly changed that. She helps me to function without having to depend on others. Dolly helps in every aspect of my life… She is truly my most crucial medical equipment with a loving, beating heart… She is my hero.
2020 Military Dog of the Year
Blue ll P491 (Lawrenceville, Georgia)
Blue served our country valiantly from 2011 to 2018. I served as her first handler on my second deployment to Afghanistan, which was her first deployment as an Improvised Explosive Device Detector Dog. While deployed, Blue and I went on over 300 combat missions. She found many IEDs, saving me, along with many Marines and Sailors during our deployment.
2020 Guide/Hearing Dog of the Year
Aura (Brunswick, Maine)
Aura is a trained hearing service dog. She became my ears after I lost my hearing in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. I was in despair after my injuries. I needed a helper. What I received was a fur guardian angel. She has restored my independence. I went from being a blown-up deaf person to a person who now feels safe and secure in the world.
2020 Law Enforcement Dog of the Year
K-9 Cody (Newport News, Virginia)
K-9 Cody started her career in explosives detection in Iraq, working hard to keep U.S. personnel safe at the U.S. Embassy. K-9 Cody was transferred back to the United States, where she continued her explosives detection career working at the Mall of America. She quickly stood out as a phenomenal K-9, and not just because of her ability to detect explosives, but also because of her calm and loving demeanor.
2020 Search and Rescue Dog of the Year
Remington (Montgomery, Texas)
K9 Remington is more than just a retired search and rescue K9; he is a cancer fighter and survivor, an advocate for retired K9s and for dogs to be in the fire service. Remi was nationally certified in human remains detection and worked many cases across the United States with Special K9s SAR.
Remi has spent his entire life fighting for those who could not fight by assisting law enforcement in locating remains or evidence. His deployments range from missing people, cold cases, and Hurricane Harvey.
He still has cancer and is now a tripod, but he continues to live his life representing Project K9 Hero at events to raise awareness and funding for other retired K9s. Remi is more than a search dog; he is a HERO!