FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Gabe, a retired military dog who completed more than 200 combat missions in Iraq, was named American Hero Dog of 2012 last weekend at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Los Angeles.
The retired military dog spent several years sniffing out insurgent bombs, guns and ammunition in Iraq with his handler, Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Shuck, a drill sergeant leader at Fort Jackson's Drill Sergeant School.
"Winning the award was an amazing feeling because I knew that many Soldiers were going to benefit from the $15,000 we just won," Shuck said. "Looking out at the crowd, who gave Gabe a standing ovation, was also amazing. Seeing Betty White and many other celebrities honor Gabe was a moment I will never forget. Having the support of Fort Jackson and Gabe fans in all 50 states and 22 countries was the key to victory. Every vote counted and we surely appreciate it."
Gabe won $5,000 for his charity in the previous round of competition, and another $10,000 from last weekend's win. When the contest began earlier in the year, there were 359 dogs competing in eight categories, including therapy dogs, law enforcement dogs, emerging hero dogs, service dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs, military dogs and search and rescue dogs.
The pool of contestants was eventually whittled down to eight finalists, who appeared at last weekend's awards ceremony at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.
Gabe's charity is the United States War Dogs Association, which provides care packages for deployed Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and their K-9 partners. These packages include ear muffs and dog booties for the paws of the dogs. They also help with the expenses of military working dog adoptions.
The winner was selected by a panel that included Whoopi Goldberg, Kristen Chenoweth and the handlers and owners of last year's eight finalists. The seven runners-up each won $5,000 for a designated charity.
The ceremony, hosted by Chenoweth, will be broadcast Nov. 8 on Hallmark Channel.
"We will be visiting all the Fort Jackson schools in November and December with Gabe's medals and trophy so the kids can get some pictures with him," Shuck said.