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'Hero Dog Awards': Profiles in canine courage

Hero Dog Awards Host, Kristin Chenoweth with her

Hero Dog Awards Host, Kristin Chenoweth with her dog Maddie (short for Madeline Kahn). American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards, which airs Thursday on Hallmark Channel. Credit: Alexx Henry Studios, LLC

This awards show has the usual -- red carpet, stars and a glamorous Beverly Hills setting. But it's also one of the few where people know who won before it airs.

Hallmark Channel's "American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards," airing Thursday at 8 p.m., was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Oct. 6, with Kristin Chenoweth as host.

"I have always been a fan of Hallmark TV movies," Chenoweth says. "I grew up watching them, but this is a Hallmark movie that is real life. It celebrates our beloved animals, who go above and beyond what they are called to do. I encourage people to watch it and [challenge] them to not be moved by it."

Chenoweth brought her Maltese, Madeline Kahn Chenoweth, to the awards, but she says the night's big winner, Gabe, a yellow Lab, was better behaved. Though Chenoweth has hosted other shows, being center stage at such an event has its challenges.

"It is very nerve-racking, because you are obviously not hiding behind a role," says the Tony-winning actress. "It is really fun to shoot something when you believe in it so much. It is scary because you are hosting an evening, and your job is to keep it going. It is a very classy event. It is six dogs and their stories. It is all very emotional, and I did not want it to go to too down of a place, because we are celebrating them. It went great."

The stories focus on the dogs, which won in various categories after the public voted. In addition to Gabe, who took the military dog category, Daniel, right, of Nutley, N.J., won as emerging hero. A stray beagle, he survived a gas chamber in Alabama. He and his owner, Joe Dawyer, campaign against gassing animals.

Tabitha of South Bend, Ind., won in the guide dog category. Tabitha helped Ann Drake, who lost her sight as an adult, regain her confidence. She went on to complete her undergraduate and graduate studies.

The law enforcement dog winner is Jynx of Shillington, Pa. Jynx tried to pull his handler, Sgt. Kyle Pagerly, and another officer to safety when a criminal shot at them. Pagerly was killed, but had Jynx not reacted as he did, more police would have died that night.

Tatiana II of Plantation, Fla., won in the hearing dog category for alerting the family of her handler, Cristina Saint-Blancard, that the woman had stopped breathing. And Soot took the search and rescue category after the Charleston, W.Va., dog rescued a 78-year-old diabetic hunter who was lost in the wilderness.

Gabe completed 210 missions in Iraq. His handler, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Shuck, began working with Gabe in 2006, when he was told to report to the pound and pick one of two dogs.

Gabe was then trained to search for explosives, weapons and ammunition. And he definitely saved soldiers' lives, Shuck says. "Gabe had one find of 36 mortar rounds, and those 36 mortar rounds could have been made into 36 IEDs.

"Him going out there, searching for the explosives and finding them," Shuck says, "he does not know that he potentially can die. He goes out and smells for this bad stuff, and if he finds it, he gets his ball, his reward."

Now retired, Gabe lives with Shuck in Fort Jackson, S.C., where the most dangerous thing he does is steal his sister's food.

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