The National Dog Show isn't just about awarding the most prim and proper dog breeds — it's also about honoring those canines who work tirelessly for their human companions. One of the most important parts of the prestigious dog show is their Therapy Dog Ambassador program. This year, the tradition will be carried on by a trio of Therapy Ambassadors: Li'l Abner, Stella and Vivian. Learn more about the outstanding canines that will be celebrated at this year's National Dog Show and meet their phenomenal predecessors.
Breed: Dogue de Bordeaux
Two-year-old Li’l Abner has been doing therapy work at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, St. Mary’s Hospital in Bucks County and at Bristol Township Schools since he was the wee age of one. In 2011, he competed in the National Dog Show and won a Blue Ribbon in the novice Dogue de Bordeaux class. Owner Steven Kramer says the 135-lb dog always does his therapy work with sister Stella. He and his sister are Certified Dogs from Therapy Dogs International, Inc.
Breed: Staffordshire/Boston Terrier mix
Although Vivian joined the trio last, she already had a ton of working experience. Vivian came from the UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine VetPets Therapy Dog Program, where she spent three months at the Philadelphia Prison System as part of the "New Leash on Life" prison-dog program. The program prepares prisoners for transition to the outside world. Vivian was one of the dogs that was cared for by a group of soon-to-be-released inmates. She was later adopted by a veterinarian at PennVet and began to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. That is when she met Li'l Abner and Stella.
Breed: Belgian Sheepdog
Eli the Belgian Sheepdog was the last surviving canine to do therapy work in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Sadly, he passed away unexpectedly this year. Last year, Eli was named Therapy Dog Ambassador. He had previously competed in the show in 2002. He spent much of his retired show dog life appearing at dog shows and fundraising events to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Breed: Bull Terrier
When Rufus retired from the show dog circuit in 2010, he became a member of Angels on a Leash and Therapy Dogs International. The gregarious Bull Terrier visited hospitals and nursing homes, bringing joy to elders and children. He was even able to help a child who had been mute gain enough courage to speak. In 2010, he was honored as a Therapy Dog Ambassador. It was a proud moment for bully breeds everywhere. Rufus passed away this year, but his legacy will be carried on by this year's trio.
Breed: Italian Greyhound
Jack the Italian Greyhound may not have been given the title of therapy dog ambassador, but this working dog still walked away a winner at the National Dog Show in 2011. He placed at the top of his breed and ranked fourth in the toy dog category. In Jack's spare time, he visited local special education classes to help children with their reading lessons. Now that he is retired from dog shows, he can focus on being a full-time certified therapy dog. Perhaps he will be asked to come back as an ambassador one day!
Next: National Dog Show's New Breeds
Don't forget to tune in to the National Dog Show this Thanksgiving weekend to meet the therapy dog ambassadors on November 17 on NBC!