Dog Eat Dog: The AHA Hero Dog Awards Part I

Hero Dogs

“I am somewhat exhausted; I wonder how a battery feels when it pours electricity into a non-conductor?”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

At one point in the competition a representative of the American Humane Association answered a tsunami of criticism about its design and execution and the violent in-fighting that many competitors were experiencing by acknowledging the contest contestants to be “spirited.”To euphemistically call the madness of the social media contest “spirited” is skin to labeling the Nanjing Massacre a “skirmish.”

The American Humane Association Hero dog Awards just concluded the first round of voting (actually more like fifteen rounds without a bell) and they have now moved into the final selection phase where one of the dogs will be crowned AHA Hero Dog and will walk the red carpet in Hollywood with canine loving stars like Pauley Perrette, Betty White and Miranda Lambert. Gander and I staggered out of the last day with him in second place in the service dog category only to find that even the officials had already abandoned the finish line:  A powerful metaphor for the worst, yet most strangely rewarding three months in recent memory. I will explain….

I signed Gander on for the awards having no idea what to expect. The promise of the awards was that, at the worst, we could up the profile for the charity that provided me Gander and, at the best, snag a tiny cash prize, a dubiously important title and bragging rights that could mean positive exposure for my charity and the causes and agendas we promote: PTSD Awareness, Service Dog Access, Veterans Rights and Suicide Prevention. And we’d be supporting the Association by bringing in new donors to support the work they do.

I started or renamed accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for Gander. I began recruiting supporters and implored people to follow the everyday heroism of a dog I credit with saving my life and bringing joy and inspiration to thousands more. The cohorts in the quest to elect Gander to public accolades were and are my saving grace: The kindest, most generous and thoughtful people I could ever imagine. While the competition was an example of all that is wrong with social media, the people supporting Gander were all that is right with the Web. And I felt that way, not because they backed my battle buddy, but because they trusted the intention of our involvement and created a community of grace and goodwill. Within a month Gander had 10,000 followers on Facebook, 60,000 on Twitter and 5, o00 on Instagram. I was ready. OK, I thought I was ready.

I began to look at other dogs entered in the competition. There were some extraordinary stories of courage and accomplishment. Surely, any of these dogs were worthy of an award and many were already bona fide heroes: Military war dogs who sniffed out IEDs, a  guide dog who did triple duty as guide, service and therapy dog for a Sergeant Major who was blinded in Iraq, and stories you hoped would be collected into a book and shared with the world. To think only one dog would emerge on top already seemed unfair.

It was soon evident that, though a month early, I was late to the party. A team of candidates had already formed and mounting a charge. At the front of the formation was last year’s winner with nearly fifty-thousand likes using his celebrity to back five dogs running in different categories. My work was cut out for me. Work was cut out for all of us. Not to self:  “Healey’s First Law Of Holes: When in one, stop digging.” ― Denis Healey. But, I am stubborn and what is life without challenge?

“The difficulty in dealing with a maze or labyrinth lies not so much in navigating the convolutions to find the exit but in not entering the damn thing in the first place. I am a stubborn warrior. I grabbed my sword and headed out to fight a digital sea. Had I known then how vicious and vile the fight would be I would have quit on the spot. Had I known in advance that the AHA would turn a blind eye to competitor transgressions and put page view,  celebrity and sponsorship opportunities above integrity, I would have never started.

G.K Chesterton once said that a good novel tells the truth about the hero while a bad one tells us about the author. While the awards could have been a bestseller, the AHA penned a weak tome….

Part II Saturday
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
― Abraham Lincoln