Tag Archives: Hero Dog Awards

This Hero Dog Has a Canine Cause

Hero Dog Awards 2014

Donna Smith Lawrence and Suzie at left. The AHA Hero Dog Awards 2014 feature hosts Beth Stern and James Denton

In 2009, Donna Smith Lawrence and her husband saw a TV news report about a puppy that had been found with severe burns on her body, her ears burned off, a broken jaw and teeth. The North Carolina hairdresser told her husband she wanted to adopt that dog. It was an astonishing statement — especially in light of the fact that Donna herself had spent weeks in the hospital recovering from a horrific pit bull attack by an abandoned animal in her neighborhood.

The Lawrences nursed the puppy they called Susie back to health. Infuriating many, the man who had so cruelly burned and beaten her was sentenced to probation only. At the time, North Carolina law did not criminalize animal abuse. Donna and Susie got busy — and today the state has “Susie’s Law,” which makes animal cruelty a low-level felony.

On Thursday night (10/30), viewers will have the chance to see Donna and Susie, now a certified therapy dog, being honored at the 4th Annual American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards on the Hallmark Channel. The celebrity-studded award show features compelling story after compelling story of amazing canines. Susie’s and Donna’s story of triumph and forgiveness brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom.

Susie, however, seemed to enjoy basking in the adulation and glamor. She looked divine in a purple tutu and a strand of faux pearls for the formal event. “She’s kind of used to it,” admits Lawrence with a smile. “She was just a little star, just standing up there on stage, just taking it all in. She didn’t seem to mind at all. That’s kind of her trademark, pearls and tutus,” she adds.

Susie’s rise to fame began with the campaign to get her animal cruelty law on the books. She and Donna visited communities across the state, manned booths at events to get petitions signed, answered questions. Eventually, they took their case all the way into the state house in Raleigh. “We took her right up in front of the Senate and the House and let them see first hand what animal cruelty looked like. I think that’s what really made the powerful difference, ’cause it’s one thing to talk about an animal being abused but when it’s someone marching the animal right up in front of you, you can’t deny it.”

Susie’s abuser wouldn’t have been penalized even to the extent that he was if the assistant district attorney on the case hadn’t thought of prosecuting him on grounds of attempted destruction of personal property. Susie had belonged to the abuser’s girlfriend. “If the girlfriend had shown up in court and said, ‘I don’t care that he burned my dog,’ he would have got nothing,” says Lawrence. “I think her parents kept her away because of all the publicity.” Not surprisingly, Susie’s abuser has gone on to other incidents of trouble with the law.

Since news broke of Susie’s Hero Dog win, Lawrence has been deluged with emails. “I get emails from people who want to get the laws changed in their states: How can I do this? We want to do this here. People just want this epidemic of animal abuse stopped. And that’s how we stop it — to make it a national movement to stop animal cruelty. There are states that have great laws, but others don’t. North Dakota and South Dakota don’t. North Carolina was in the top five worst; the laws hadn’t been changed in 100 years. Alabama has pretty good animal cruelty laws now. Because of a dog that was burned that was named Gucci, they have a law called Gucci’s Law. That dog passed away.” Lawrence and Susie continue their lobbying efforts even as the pooch does her humanitarian work, visiting children, the aged, the disabled, always with her silent message that there can be a bright future even for those in despair.

Susie’s story is not only of victory, but of healing. After her pit bull attack, Lawrence, understandably, had a dread fear of dogs. Susie, she says, “got me over that. I felt God was saying to adopt her and ‘I have great plans for you. From this day forward you will no longer be afraid of dogs,’ and I haven’t been. It’s like Susie opened my eyes to where I don’t have to live in fear. Because, you know, she trusted humans again after what happened to her. I thought, ‘If she can trust humans, I can trust dogs.’ So, you know, she really helped me overcome that fear.”

These days, Susie keeps a full slate of public appearances — and there will be even more now that she is the Hero Dog Award winner of this year. There’s already a movie about her, “Susie’s Hope,” that stars Emmanuelle Vaugier. It fared well on the festival circuit, had a small theatrical run, and can now be found on Netflix, at Walmart, Best Buy and other outlets.

“It’s a really good movie and everybody’s loving it,” Lawrence lets us know. “And it’s a really good tool for the work we’re doing.”

A documentary for 2015 is also on the way. Oh, and Susie has a little toy line of her own – including plush therapy dogs that feature the pit bull mix’s trademark pearls and instead of ears, furry little nubs on their heads.

At age five, she is happy and healthy.

Lawrence adds, “I’m glad Susie won because of what she represents.”

Stars Turn Out to Honor Hero Dogs

James Denton and Beth Stern

James Denton and Beth Stern

Marlee Matlin, Pauley Perrette, Larry Miller, Kellie Martin, Cristina Ferrare and Mark Steines were among the celebrity dog lovers who turned out the other night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to honor a group of very special pooches at the American Humane Association’s Fourth Annual Hero Dog Awards. The awards will be shown on the Hallmark Channel Oct. 30.

With this year’s group of honorees representing one moving story after another, it was a four-hanky affair.

There were interesting stories on the human side as well. James Denton was a last-minute replacement for Terry Bradshaw, who bowed out of co-hosting duties with Beth Stern in the wake of the stunning news of the death of Bradshaw’s son-in-law, former Tennessee Titans player Rob Bironas, in an automobile accident. The former “Desperate Housewives” actor gamely dove in, getting some of his best laughs of the night via a video bit showing him “interviewing” dogs and other critters using a device that purportedly translated their thoughts.

Between takes, Denton asked Stern how come there had been so many “Desperate Housewives” Mike-the-plumber jokes through the evening, but not a single quip about Beth’s husband, Howard Stern. “It’s in my contract,” the beauteous blond Mrs. Stern replied with a dazzling smile. Then the “Kitten Bowl” host told the crowd that Howard was home taking care of their 15 cats. The Sterns, we are told, have successfully fostered and placed more than 50 cats to date.

Wilson Phillips performed. The ’90s favorites are in the midst of a string of concert dates right now, including one at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre last week during which Chynna Phillips’ mother, Michelle Phillips, joined them onstage to sing “California Dreamin'”. The last surviving member of the iconic 1960s group The Mamas and the Papas was present at the Hero Dog Awards also, looking lovely at age 70 in a flowing white gown.

Chynna talked to her “mommie” several times from onstage and it was as sweet as Wilson Phillips’ singing “God Only Knows” backed by photos of their dogs.

Of course, the night really belonged to the hero dogs and their stories. For instance, there was the tearful parting and joyous reunion of a soldier and his four-legged buddy after tours of duty in Afghanistan; the fluffy white friend who turned out to have a gift for early detection of a little girl’s life-threatening extreme allergic attacks; the amazing career of a 15-year-old search and rescue dog whose first assignment was Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. And the over-all winner of the 2014 Hero Dog Awards, Susie the therapy dog, a Pit Bull mix whose story of the healing power of forgiveness and love exemplifies what the event is all about.

Joey Lawrence Talks Sexual Tension, Heroic Dogs, and Chips off the Ol’ Block

JOEY LAWRENCE, MELISSA JOAN HARTJoey Lawrence admits he had concerns about the turn of events on his popular “Melissa & Joey” ABC Family sitcom last season – when his and Melissa Joan Hart’s characters went from their sexually charged employer-employee relationship to becoming lovers.  However, he tells us, two episodes into shooting of Season 4, he’s happy about their having taken the risk.

“The show changes completely.  Joe no longer works for Mel anymore, so he’s going to move out into his own place and they’re going to start dating and see how it goes.  Once they finally got together, it changed everything.  They decided to go for it – to give it a shot as a couple.”

He adds, “I think that we have a really good writing team and there was a lot of thought creatively about how we’re going to deal with this and keep the show fresh.  Certainly Mel and Joe getting together does not mean it’s always going to be smooth sailing.  It’s a very interesting way to keep the sparks flying.”

Joey, who will be seen hosting the Hallmark Channel’s Third Annual Hero Dog Awards Oct. 30, reports that when the current 40-episode order of “Melissa and Joey” is finished, the sitcom will have passed the 100 episode mark – a rare feat in today’s television environment.  He acknowledges that going in, he had no idea the series would turn into a long-running success. 

“We developed a core audience, and I think the end of last year our numbers were up 61 per cent.  We found a great little niche and we have a good home.  A lot of people watch live, and then we have an audience that watches online when they choose all around the world.  Really, if you like the multi-camera comedy – and multi-camera romantic comedy, our show is one of the few actually on TV.”

His former “Blossom” sister, Mayim Bialik, is on another one of those few sitcoms, “The Big Bang Theory,” and Joey says, “I’ve seen her from time to time at different events.  We don’t talk a lot but it’s good to see that Mayim and I are still plugging away.”

               Joey was surrounded by stars including Betty White, Pauley Perrette, Ryan O’Neal and Jennifer Coolidge at the American Humane Association’s “Hero Dog Awards” event. 

“It was fun, man, it was fun,” he declares.  “Every year they’ve progressed — they’ve wanted my involvement a little more.  The first year I was a presenter.  Last year I was also working with Miss White.  This year they said, ‘Do you want to host it?’ and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’  I mean, I love dogs and this is a cool show for dog lovers.  Obviously the American Humane Association is doing such outstanding work, and has been for 100 years, you know?  So I said, ‘I’d love it.’  So they let me do my thing, spice things up a little bit, you know, and actually it turned out to be a special evening. 

“If you’re a dog lover, you understand what wonderful creatures these are.  The dogs on the show are amazing.  We have one of the five dogs in the country who can sniff out early signs of cancer.  Their noses are such an incredible tool — they smell in color, as they say.  It’s an amazing thing to see these animals who work like this every day.”

He says it was no problem for him to take on “Hero Dogs” amidst “Melissa & Joey” production.  “They allowed me to be myself up there.  We shot it on Saturday night so we were able to do it around my work, so everything worked out fine.”

Of course, Joey is a dog lover himself – as are his and wife Chandie’s seven and three-year-old daughters.  “We have an Australian Shepherd-black Lab mix named Tiffany, and we have a Golden Retriever named Leo,” he reports.

As for whether either of his girls are also showing signs of sharing his love of performing, Joey replies, “They have.  My seven-year-old is already starting to ask questions about it.  She’d like to be in a commercial, she tells me all the time.”

What does he say?

“Well, my mom allowed me to follow my dream.  It would be really wrong of me to prevent my daughter from doing it.  I tell her, ‘We’ll think it over and maybe in a couple of years, when you’re nine and can do something over the summer, well give it a shot.  You know it’s not just going out and doing a commercial, it’s going out it’s having to audition, to show you know what you’re doing.’  She said, ‘Oh yeah. I have to go try out for it.’

According to him, his elder daughter is “really, really, really extroverted and she loves to sing and stuff.  But I come from a different perspective and a different time.  It’s such a different world today than when I was growing up.  Then, it was all about work.  Now, it’s more about, ‘How do I become famous?’  I want to teach her old school: it’s going to be about the work.”  He told her, “It’s going to take a lot of work, but if it’s something you really want to try, maybe we’ll see what pops.  It could be cool.”