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Meet Maverick, Winner of the 2023 American Humane Hero Dog Awards

By Pet Age Staff//November 7, 2023//

Meet Maverick, Winner of the 2023 American Humane Hero Dog Awards

By: Pet Age Staff//November 7, 2023//

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Press release: America Humane

American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, unveiled the winner of the 13th annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards. Maverick, a 150-pound European Blue Great Dane in the Therapy Dogs category — which is sponsored by The Brady Hunter Foundation — has clutched the coveted title. The American Humane Hero Dog Awards is a nationwide competition that searches for and recognizes America’s standout dogs in five categories: Therapy Dogs; Service and Guide Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement and First Responder Dogs; and Shelter Dogs.

Beginning in April, Americans nominated hundreds of inspiring dogs from across the country and from there, five semi-finalists in each of the five categories were chosen to meet the American public. After a competitive public voting process, the field of 25 was whittled down to five four-legged finalists. The winner, therapy dog Maverick, was then selected by a blue-ribbon judging panel.

Maverick and the four other finalists will be honored at the 13th annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards and Gala in Palm Beach on November 10, a star-studded awards show that will be hosted by Christie Brinkley and Carson Kressley. The event is presented by Lois Pope and the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation and will be nationally televised on A&E on November 26 and fyi on Thanksgiving Day.

“We are so excited to name Maverick as American Humane’s 2023 Hero Dog, a distinction that is well-deserved for him and his handler Kelly,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane. “The duo has worked tirelessly to bring comfort and solace to our nation’s military heroes through the United Service Organizations (USO), all while they both were facing their own internal battles against cancer. It’s these types of incredible stories about sacrifice, perseverance, and compassion that this award aims to spotlight.”

“The American Humane Hero Dog Awards celebrate America’s often unsung heroes,” said philanthropist and platinum presenting sponsor Lois Pope. “From those who defend our country to those who help us heal, guide us, protect us, and find the lost, every single contender exemplifies the courage and heroism we seek to spotlight in this campaign. Our goal is not only to honor these magnificent dogs but to inspire America to reflect on the outsized contributions that animals make in our lives each and every day.”

The 2023 Hero Dog, Maverick, and his handler Kelly Brownfield first met in 2016. There was an instant bond with the then 12-week-old puppy, who immediately ran up to her and nuzzled into her chest as if he was meant to be there. Kelly, who had previous therapy dogs, spent the first year rigorously training Maverick, which helped him pass his therapy dog certification test with flying colors in 2017.

Since then, the duo has invested their time and talents with the USO, helping to bring comfort to military families. Maverick’s unconditional love uplifts the spirits of the military community stationed at the Fort Leonard Wood post in Missouri, where he supports service members on suicide watch, escorts children to military funerals for their parents, and helps men and women cope with trauma, injuries, and stress. Kelly and Maverick have completed 55 “special mission” requests this year alone.

According to Kelly, Maverick’s superpower is his ability to comfort people and ease their souls. He has an intuitive knack for immediately finding the person in a room who is feeling stressed or emotional and uses touch to calm them. Maverick’s go-to move? Placing his paw on the person he’s comforting.

Maverick has also been by Kelly’s side throughout her ongoing battle with cancer — a disease that Maverick himself has successfully fought. Leading up to her diagnosis, Maverick had been especially clingy, often laying on top of Kelly and placing his head near hers. Her oncologist believes that Maverick could smell that something was wrong and was worried about her. Kelly has begun ongoing chemotherapy, which will be completed in April 2024. She asserts that her cancer “can take pieces of me, but not all of me.” She says her work serving the community with Maverick helps keep things in perspective and reminds her to always be grateful.

The four other finalist dogs include:

Buda (Oceanside, California): Military working dog Buda — a 4-year-old German shorthaired pointer—bravely serves our country as one of only eighteen certified explosives-detection canines in the U.S. Coast Guard. Buda and his canine handler, Maritime Enforcement Specialist Chase Leamer, work together to protect their local community both on the water and on land. Since graduating from his elite training program in 2021, Buda has participated in more than 185 operational deployments and engagements. His work includes responding to bomb threats, performing safety sweeps of sea vessels, providing security at events like Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, and more. This extraordinary hero dog is even trained to be hoisted in and out of helicopters.


Poppy (Columbia, South Carolina): Law enforcement canine Poppy — a 5-year-old black Labrador — courageously protects students and faculty as an invaluable member of the University of South Carolina (USC) Police Department. Poppy is an award-winning explosives and firearms detection dog who serves alongside her handler, Sgt. Mark Tevepaugh. Poppy is a regular fixture at school and community events, providing security sweeps, crowd screening, and safety presentations to help empower students. She can also be found roaming the sprawling University of Southern California (USC) campus, where she brings smiles and comfort to stressed and homesick college students. When this hero dog is off duty, Poppy loves to spend time at home with her handler’s son.


Raina (Perkasie, Pennsylvania): Emerging hero shelter dog Raina — a 13-year-old Australian shepherd—came into this world blind, deaf, and with a contagious sense of joy. Her owner Kristen Strouse adopted Raina from a shelter when she was six months old. Ever since, this 13-year-old hero dog has served as a beautiful advocate for people and pets with special needs. Raina and Kristen are passionate about using public education, awareness events, and fundraisers to help rescue blind and deaf dogs, who often struggle to find their forever homes. At home, Raina offers comfort and inspiration to Kristen after an autoimmune deficiency forced her into early retirement. Her owner credits Raina with saving her life and keeping her going during that traumatic transition. After a long life, Raina sadly passed away in October.


Moxie (Ballwin, Missouri): Lifesaving service dog Moxie—a five-year-old mini goldendoodle—helped her handler, Katie Harris, find hope and purpose again when a rare disease robbed her of her ability to walk, leaving her suicidal. Moxie’s unconditional love and dedication have since helped Katie get through countless hospital visits, surgeries, and painful medical episodes. She provides invaluable assistance on a daily basis, performing tasks like picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, and alerting her handler to low blood pressure and other medical crises. This hero dog lives up to her name, bringing spirit and courage to everything she does.


During the past 13 years, Americans have cast millions of votes for more than 1,000 dogs, all seeking the coveted title of American Humane Hero Dog. The program reaches billions of people each year and draws the support and participation of top celebrity dog lovers from all over the world. Hosts, judges, award presenters and entertainment acts have included Jay LenoBilly CrystalBetty WhiteAriel WinterVivica A. FoxRebecca RomijnAlison SweeneyJames DentonBeth SternFaithe HermanMarcus ScribnerBindi IrwinDerek HoughRichard MarxKatharine McPheeMichelle Beadle, Whoopi Goldberg, Denise Richards, Lisa Vanderpump, Chelsea HandlerMartin Short, Jewel, Wilson PhillipsJohn OndrasikCarson KressleyMiranda LambertPauley PerretteKristen ChenowethNaomi JuddEric StonestreetDanica McKellarBailee Madison and many more.


(Photos courtesy America Humane)