Soot and his owner, Lorrie BurdSoot, an 8 year old Labrador retriever has won the award for the American Humane Association’s Search and Rescue Dog of the Year. Already, Soot has won the hearts of over 19 000 who have voted for him in the American Hero Dog Awards competition.
Lorrie Burdette adopted Soot nearly four years ago after her vet told her about a couple looking to give away their dog due to his high energy. Despite being heartbroken after having just lost her dog Pepper, also a Black Lab, to cancer, Burdette had the couple bring the dog to her hilltop home.
“We wanted them to see he’d have the run of the yard, and we wanted them to know he was going to a good home,” Burdette said. “When they left, everyone was crying. We gave them a month to come back for him because after that I would have started getting attached. They never came back.”
Soot quickly lived up to his high energy reputation as he spent his days running around the Burdette’s property. Soot enjoyed taking a dip in their swimming pool as well.
Knowing Soot needed lots of exercise, Burdette saw Search and Rescue as an opportunity to put Soot’s energy to good use. She attended an informational meeting with the West Virginia K-9 Search and Rescue team. Before Soot could start the training program, Burdette had to undergo six months of training herself. Later, Soot was trained to walk on a leash and track people by their scent.
“He was a real catbird,” she said of her dog’s behavior during training.
Two years after having gone through the certification program, Soot was called on to assist in a search for a missing hunter on Blair Mountain. Leroy Nease, the hunter, had somehow gotten separated from his son. When the son was unable to find Nease after several hours of searching he called upon the help of the Search and Rescue teams.
Gauze pads were used to obtain a scent from Nease’s coat. The pads were then kept in a plastic bag for Soot to sniff whenever he needed a reminder.
Initially, the pair had no luck finding Nease, but a team of trackers had found boot prints further up the mountain. Burdette and Soot quickly arrived on scene. Soot was “in scent” as he trotted along the mountain.
“We were hollering the man’s name – ‘Leroy! Leroy!’ – and we were getting a response from the owls at first, I think,” Burdette said. “But I hollered ‘Leroy!’ and then I heard somebody holler ‘Yeah!’
“I got chills,” described Burdette.
At this point, Nease was still quite a distance from them so the team continued to follow Soot.
It wasn’t long before the team spotted a fire, but didn’t know how to get to it. Luckily, Soot found a path to the fire. As the group continued to get closer, they could see Nease sitting on the ground. Soot ran up to Nease for a quick sniff and as soon as he realized he had found his target, he ran back to the rescue group looking for his reward – a good ol’ tennis ball!
Despite being tired, Nease, a diabetic, was in good condition and returned to his family.
After his find, a friend nominated Soot for the big award.
“I’m so proud of him, I can’t stand it,” Burdette said. “We love doing it (searching), but he really loves going out in the woods.”
The awards show takes place in October, where they will fly out to Los Angeles for Soot’s big debut. Attending the event is Betty White, television star and animal advocate.
What’s the big thing on Burdette’s mind right now? What her and Soot will wear!
“He gets excited when we put the vest on him because he thinks it’s time to search or train,” Burdette said. “But this is black tie.”
The people’s votes, as well as the judges, will decide which dog takes home the big prize – Hero Dog 2012.
Each of the finalists will receive a $5000 award, to be given to their charity partner. The winner will receive an additional $10 000 for their partner.
Soot’s hoping to bring home the big prize for his charity partner, Sage Foundation for Dog’s Who Serve.
The American Hero Dog Awards show is set to air on November 2 on the Hallmark channel.
Voting continues in the American Hero Dog category until midnight Oct. 5. You can cast your vote at www.herodogawards.org.