Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, David Bowie and Bonnie Tyler are among many performers who've sung the praise of heroes in their songs. Carey's ballad, "Hero" (1993), written by Walter Afanasieff, includes the lyrics:
"Lord knows dreams are hard to follow,
Hold on, there will be tomorrow.
In time, you will find the way."
Of course, there are many types of heroes out there doing good works, including watching out for animals. Some devote their lives to the task.
The HomeAgain Pet Recovery Service, which reunites lost pets with their families, is seeking nominations for its 2013 HomeAgain Hero of the Year. Nominees can be anyone, from an animal shelter or animal control employee or volunteer to someone devoted to pet rescue, or a first responder after disasters.
Gary MacPhee, director and general manager of HomeAgain, says, "We are proud to establish an award that will spotlight the commitment, compassion and positive impact of those who have made the well-being of animals a priority, and look forward to sharing their stories and triumphs with others."
But what makes a hero? Betsy Saul, co-founder of petfinder.com, a popular website for adoptable pets, and a contest judge, is a hero. After all, petfinder.com has placed over 22 million animals into homes.
"Hero is a word bandied about a lot. You don't want to diminish the word, but there are so many people doing so much for animals," says Saul.
As one example, Saul cites Becky Robinson, co-founder of the cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies, which supports the trap, neuter, return (TNR) of feral cats. Volunteers trap outdoor cats, then bring then to veterinarians to be spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies before returning them to their communities to live out their lives.
"At a local level, of course, all those TNR volunteers are heroes, too," says Saul.
Dog trainer and author Brian Kilcommons is also a contest judge. He supports the idea of nominating ordinary folks. Kilcommons says one of his favorite stories is about a woman who adopted a painfully shy dog. The pet would most certainly have otherwise been euthanized; the shelter even attempted to convince the woman to adopt another dog. Many months later, three thugs approached and were about to attack the woman when the small dog stood up to the bad guys. No doubt, the dog this woman saved also saved her life.
In commemoration of the heroes' efforts in animal welfare, HomeAgain will make a $10,000 donation in the name of the HomeAgain Hero of the Year award winner, as well as donations for each of the four finalists, to the Petfinder Foundation, Assistance Dogs International, the Morris Animal Foundation and Winn Feline Foundation, which funds studies to support cat health.
"I can think of several heroic people who've done so much to save abandoned cats," says Dr. Vicki Thayer, board President Winn Feline Foundation. One person in San Francisco stopped her car on the San Francisco Bay bridge to rescue a kitten, a fairly dangerous act. "Some people say these are 'crazy cat ladies.' I say they are heroes." Thayer commented.
Kilcommons says any military handler of a working dog is by definition a hero.
"I'm not sure people are aware of the daily contribution that these working dogs and their handlers make," he said.
Submit as many nominations as you wish at http://www.homeagainheroes.com. All names must be entered by July 31, 2013. Other contest judges are Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed who landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River in January, 2009, and Sullenberger's wife, Lorrie, who rescues dogs; and Dr. Jane Brunt, feline veterinarian, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and executive director of the CATalyst Council, as well as myself. Winners will be announced later this year.
So, why do people toil so unselfishly to rescue animals? Kilcommons says maybe it isn't all that unselfish.
"Look at all we get from animals," he notes.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)