FREEPORT — Four Alaqua Animal Refuge alumni dogs have been nominated for the national American Humane Hero Dog Awards.

The awards celebrates the relationship between dogs and people, and recognizes acts of heroism performed by ordinary dogs. The awards highlight their stories and remind us of the value of our pets and what they mean to us.

The American Humane Hero Dog competition is divided into seven categories: law enforcement or arson dogs; service dogs; therapy dogs; military dogs; guide or hearing dogs; search and rescue dogs; and shelter dogs. There are three voting periods including semi-finalist, category winner, and 2019 American Hero Dog winner.

All four of Alqua's alumni dogs are nominated in the semi-finalist round for their respective categories: Elsa (therapy dog) and Rufus, Saylor, and Sunni (shelter dog).

The first round of semi-finalist voting ends May 2 at 10 a.m. CDT. To cast your vote, visit:

Some of the winning dogs will travel to Hollywood for a star-studded awards gala, which will be broadcast nationwide on the Hallmark Channel this fall. Seven dogs will be featured, and one will be awarded the 2019 American Hero Dog title.

Each of the four Alaqua dogs nominated found their second chance at Alaqua and are now in loving homes.


Elsa, a therapy dog living in Niceville, is a 10-year old Great Pyrenees that is trained as a registered therapy dog. She works with her owner four days a week at the Niceville Children’s Advocacy Center, The Manor in Bluewater Bay, Rocky Bayou Elementary School and the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.

She has become a hero to thousands of children and adults with more than 230 therapy dog visits. Elsa is also the biggest hero to her family because her owner’s son was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout his chemotherapy treatments, Elsa has provided love, support and hope for the entire family.


Rufus, a senior bloodhound, came to Alaqua after people in Panama City discovered he was living on his own. His family had evacuated during Hurricane Michael without him.

Seven weeks after the storm, Rufus returned to the his home, where neighbors found him trying to survive however he could. He was emaciated and his eyes oozed with fungus.

At Alaqua, Rufus found shelter, safety and a second chance, including the medical attention he needed. In February, Rufus joined a loving hospice family and home where he will live the rest of his life.

“He is our hero," his hospice foster mom said. "Rufus represents the tenacity, spirit and strength of a community. His valor, fortitude and bravery personify the effort of heroic citizens, each helping one another.”


Saylor lives in Panama City with her forever mom, who just so happens to be one of Alaqua’s volunteers. Sadly, Saylor’s human mom lost her home in Hurricane Michael, which forced her to surrender her pets to Alaqua to give them a better life while she relocated.

Saylor had suffered internal damage to her body. Tests showed her diaphragm was impaired and her intestines were not situated in her chest properly, making it hard for her breathe. She also had a broken pelvic bone and tail.

Determined to give Saylor a second chance, Alaqua provided medical care. During after-care, Saylor was initially fostered, but soon fit right in with the family’s “pack of pets” and was adopted quickly into their home. Despite the odds, Saylor is doing magnificent and plays and runs with her new family.


Sunni, a tiny Yorkshire terrier, was found living outdoors in a rough neighborhood after she was abandoned by her owners. With no use of her rear legs, she was dragging herself around.

Alaqua heard about Sunni and arranged transportation for her to be brought to the shelter from two states away. Sunni received medical care for skin disease and a urinary infection. Tests showed Sunni had an atrophied spinal cord and her rear paralysis could not be corrected. Alaqua volunteers procured a special wheelchair, and she took off as fast as she could once initially strapped in.

Alaqua’s veterinarian, Dr. Amy Williams, took in  Sunni and fostered her for five months before Sunni found her forever home.

Sunni the epitome of what positive attitude and a zest for life can do.