Sarah Ford | November 22, 2013

Delaware veterinary association, PAWS group choose 4 dogs as Animal Hero Awards winners

Canine Partners for Life graduate, Michael Stracka and his service dog, Annabelle win Animal Hero Award.

The Delaware Veterinary Medical Association and PAWS for People tomorrow will announce the first winners of their new Animal Hero Awards at Dover Downs.

The special dogs are being recognized for their contributions to the lives and welfare of their owners and others in four categories: therapy animal, service animal, animal hero and companion animal. Here are short profiles of the winners.

Therapy animal

Chip, a master certified therapy dog, is a 5-year-old chocolate lab owned by Rick Altemus, of Newark. As a therapy team for PAWS for People, they head out to visit rehab centers, hospitals and schools four to five times a week, racking up a total of about 900 visits over the past four years.

The most touching to Altemus are the visits with children, the disabled and the elderly, and he’s happy to go the extra mile. For example, he built a special ball-thrower for one child so he could play fetch with Chip.

The pair have worked with autism researchers at the University of Delaware and with the court system to help abused children.

“We sit with the kids, it takes their minds off everything,” he said. “It’s worked every time. She goes into the interrogation room with them, and if they have to go into a courtroom, she knows where to sit so they can see her.”

She’s a special hit at the Genesis HealthCare Elkton Center, where she regularly visits Margaret Morfki, 90, an Amedisys Hospice patient. The nurses lower Morfki’s bed so Chip can gently climb up and lie beside her to be petted.

“People just don’t understand what pet therapy is,” Altemus said. “It’s such a feeling of comfort to help someone. Time with these people is so valuable.”

Service animal

Annabelle, who turned 8 on Veterans Day, came to Michael Stracka five years ago through Canine Partners for Life, a Pennsylvania-based group that trains service and companion dogs.

In 1988, Stracka became a paraplegic when he fell two stories on the job. Annabelle, who follows in the footprints of his first service dog Harmony, gives him a level of independence and loving companionship.

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​Source: Deleware Online, A Gannett Company

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