ASPCA® Announces Winners of 2007 Humane Awards

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Heroic cat and dog among winners to be honored at Rainbow Room

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The Humane Awards Luncheon is our way of recognizing the important role animals play in our lives, the significance of the human-animal bond, and the people who make animal welfare a central part of their lives

A Golden Retriever performs the Heimlich maneuver; a cat saves her owners from carbon monoxide poisoning; a young girl protects horses from slaughter; a firefighter rescues pets from burning buildings; a Southern deputy investigates animal cruelty; a baseball manager establishes a non-profit for companion animals; and a Pennsylvanian takes on homeless pets and puppy mills—these seven animals and people will be honored for their heroic deeds at this year’s ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City.

The ASPCA’s annual ASPCA Humane Awards Luncheon, scheduled for Thursday, November 1, from noon to 2 p.m. at New York City’s historic Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, recognizes individuals who have worked on behalf of animal welfare as well as animals who have engaged in acts of heroism during the past year.

“The Humane Awards Luncheon is our way of recognizing the important role animals play in our lives, the significance of the human-animal bond, and the people who make animal welfare a central part of their lives,” said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. “Following a nationwide call to the public for nominations in June, an ASPCA-appointed committee identified finalists in seven categories, and these winners are the best of the best.”

The 2007 ASPCA Humane Award winners are:

ASPCA Cat of the Year

On the night of March 24, 2007, Winnie, a 14-year-old domestic shorthair cat, dozed dreamily by an open window in her family’s house in New Castle, Ind. While Winnie and her family slept, poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from a gasoline-powered water pump filled the family’s basement. Sensing all was not right, Winnie moved from her cozy window seat to the bed of Cathy and Michael Keesling. She nudged Cathy’s ear and meowed wildly to wake her. Cathy eventually sat up, realizing she was nauseous, dizzy, and disoriented. Unable to wake her husband, she quickly dialed 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived in a flash and discovered the Keeslings’ 14-year-old son, Michael, unconscious on the floor of his bedroom. All three family members were removed from the home with oxygen masks and treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. They all soon recovered, thanks to Winnie's heroic efforts.

Cathy Keesling originally found Winnie, days old, motherless and abandoned at a neighboring farm. In Winnie’s first days, Cathy and Eric nursed her with milk from an eyedropper. They saved her life, and years later, she saved theirs.

ASPCA Dog of the Year

One seemingly ordinary afternoon in suburban Maryland, a jewelry designer named Debbie Parkhurst was enjoying a ripe apple snack in the company of her beloved, two-year-old Golden Retriever, Toby. Debbie took one innocuous bite after another, but soon flinched when she realized a piece of apple was lodged in her throat. She choked and gasped, beating her chest in a vain effort to dislodge the fruit. Toby, alarmed by Debbie’s distress, pushed her to the ground and jumped up and down on her chest until the offending apple came up. Debbie is convinced she owes her life to Toby, whom she rescued from a grim fate in a dumpster in 2005. These days, Toby enjoys life with Debbie and her husband, Kevin, and he is inseparable from his canine sidekick, a Bassett Hound named Fred.

ASPCA Kid of the Year

Since its founding in 2005, Amaryllis Farm Rescue has rescued more than 50 horses and ponies from slaughter. This is due in large part to the courageous efforts and hard work of one little girl, 12-year-old Rachel Distefano.

Rachel and her mother, Christine Barrett-Distefano, co-founded Amaryllis, where Rachel works long hours at her mother’s side seven days a week during the summer, and before and after school during the year. Rachel’s chores include feeding, brushing, and bathing the horses, feeding the chickens, and tending to the needs of a working farm. Every year the Distefanos rescue horses destined for slaughterhouses across the country, and work to find them permanent, loving homes on ranches and farms.

Rachel is a sixth-grader at Stella Maris Regional Catholic School and lives in Southampton, N.Y. She has a deep love for animals and one day hopes to become a caretaker and spokesperson for cheetahs. At a tender age, she truly understands the responsibility of caring for all living things, and even says “good night” to the chickens at Amaryllis before she turns in. By giving her heart and soul to horses and the needs of animals, she is truly a role model for her fellow classmates in New York and across the country.

ASPCA Firefighter of the Year

On June 24, 2007, New York City Firefighter William H. Smith III of Ladder 58 emerged from the flames and impenetrable smoke of an apartment fire at 230 East 196th Street. In one arm, he carried a frightened, small, mixed-breed dog and, in the other, a soot-covered cat. Firefighter Smith’s incomparable act, saving the lives of two helpless animals, speaks to his seriousness of purpose and commitment to preserving and protecting the people and pets of New York City.

A senior firefighter, Smith joined Ladder 58 in 1982. In June 2007, he received the Edith B. Goldman Medal for his incomparable bravery during a house fire in the Bronx on May 21, 2006. Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented the award during the 138th annual Fire Medal Day ceremony at City Hall, one of 10 occasions during which he has been recognized for heroism during his career. Firefighter Smith lives in the Bronx with his son William IV. His eldest son, Lamar, is a Sergeant in the Marine Corps and currently stationed in Japan. Affable and well-respected by his colleagues, Firefighter Smith is a true gentleman and a genuine hero.

ASPCA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year

Just one day after Champ, a five-year old Palomino, was shot in his pasture in Palmerdale, Ala., Deputy Dwight Sloan, Animal Cruelty Investigator for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, launched a full-scale investigation of the crime. Deputy Sloan solicited the help of an evidence team, veterinarians and county workers to investigate the crime. He also helped raise more than $10,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Champ’s killer. Deputy Sloan’s hard work and dedication led to the confession and arrest of the teenager that delivered the fatal bullets.

Deputy Sloan is the lone animal cruelty investigator in Jefferson County, one of Alabama’s largest counties. Recently, with the cooperation of the Jefferson County Commission, the Sheriff’s office and the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, Deputy Sloan spearheaded the future construction of a rescue and rehabilitation barn for hoof stock and equine. It is the first shelter of its kind in Alabama, and the first time a state government agency has collaborated with a private nonprofit to make a facility a reality. Despite these “firsts,” the low-key deputy remains humble and tirelessly dedicated to making the world a better place for animals in need.

ASPCA Henry Bergh Award

In 1991, during a particularly competitive game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, an orphaned cat darted on the field during play. The A’s then-manager, Tony La Russa, hurried out onto the diamond to rescue the kitten from trampling and taunts. Soon after, La Russa and his wife Elaine co-founded the Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), which is committed to the well-being of companion animals. Through its many outreach programs in Northern California, ARF strives to educate the public about the human-animal bond, pet overpopulation and homelessness.

Born in Tampa, Fla., Tony La Russa received his J. D. from Florida State University in 1978 and is currently a member of the Florida State Bar. Prior to taking the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996, he spent 17 years managing the Oakland A’s and the Chicago White Sox. During the off season, La Russa lives in Alamo, Calif., with his wife, their two daughters, Bianca and Devon, and many rescued animals.

ASPCA Lifetime Achievement Award

Two years ago, Bill Smith watched helplessly as a young dog bred in one of Lancaster County's most notorious puppy mills died from a congenital disease caused by inbreeding. The incident spurred Smith into action, who started a billboard campaign aimed against commercial breeders to help educate the public about puppy mills and to push the Pennsylvania state government to enforce kennel laws. Using creative images, such as a Beagle sitting in a dishwasher, Mr. Smith’s visual campaign has helped pressure public officials into addressing this urgent issue.

Bill Smith is no stranger to animal welfare. In 1997, he opened Mainline Animal Rescue (MLAR), a private, non-profit organization in Chester Springs, Pa. Since its inception, MLAR has rescued and re-homed thousands of animals facing euthanasia in overcrowded shelters in more than 20 states. MLAR has also placed thousands of strays, dogs and cats with special medical needs, aged animals, and pets surrendered by families no longer able or willing to care for them. Boasting one of the country's highest placement rates, Smith's organization finds homes for 99 percent of all of the animals it accepts.

Unfailingly humble, Smith credits MLAR’s success to its many supporters inside and outside of the organization. However, none of this would be possible without Mr. Smith’s impeccable leadership, sensitivity, and dedication to animal welfare.

About the ASPCA®
Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) was the first humane organization established in the Americas, and today has one million supporters. A 501 [c] [3] not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA’s mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. The ASPCA provides local and national leadership in animal-assisted therapy, animal behavior, animal poison control, anti-cruelty, humane education, legislative services, and shelter outreach. The New York City headquarters houses a full-service, accredited animal hospital, adoption center, and mobile clinic outreach program. The Humane Law Enforcement department enforces New York’s animal cruelty laws and is featured on the reality television series “Animal Precinct” on Animal Planet. For more information, please visit

Media Contact:
Marie-Adele Moniot
(212) 876-7700 ext. 4572
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