Milford dog a semifinalist for American Humane Hero Dog Award

MILFORD — Pit bulls are typically not associated with being a therapy dog, but Jeffrey, a 13-year-old pit bull, is working hard to change the narrative.

Jeffrey is a semifinalist in the shelter dog category for the 2022 American Humane Hero Dog Awards. Voting has started and will close on July 22.

“I’ve lived in Milford my entire, and I love my town, and I hope people rally behind us and help us get this,” said Jeffrey’s owner, Michele Houston. “It would be nice to have a Connecticut dog be the shelter dog Hero Dog of the Year.”

Jeffrey’s story starts when Houston first met him in 2010 in an animal shelter in Manhattan.

“He was probably a year-and-a-half, and he was on the euthanasia list,” said Houston. “A lot of shelters across our country, unfortunately, are overflowing, and dogs end up there through no reason of their own, and the shelters absolutely don’t want to euthanize. But a lot of times they have no choice because they are overcrowded.”

Houston has always been a rescue advocate and would post dogs who were in need, and Jeffrey happened to be a dog that she shared his post because he was in danger of euthanasia.

“When I shared it, I just got this little intuitive jolt. I looked back at the post again, and I thought I needed to have the dog,” she said. “I contacted the shelter, and I was told he was adopted. It was bittersweet because I was happy he was going to have a home, but I wanted him to be my dog.”

However, when she was talking with the shelter, they told her the person who adopted Jeffrey was a rescue advocate like herself, and she wanted Houston to get in contact with her.

“I contacted Samantha, and I picked up Jeffrey, and he’s been with me ever since,” she said.

When Houston adopted Jeffrey in 2010, she said she immediately knew she had a special dog, and her suspicions came true when she entered Jeffrey in a rally obedience competition.

According to World CynoSport Rally, dogs and their handlers navigate a course at a brisk continuous pace, with numbered signs indicating different exercises to perform such as sit-down-sit, figure 8, and more.

“The rally is obedience exercises on a course,” said Houston. “You get a course route with varying degrees of difficulty through levels that start with intro-level going up to Level 3, which is the master division.”

Houston and Jeffrey started at the intro level and worked their way up to Level 3, which is the level Jeffrey now competes.

In 2019, Jeffrey became the first pit bull in history to earn World Cynosport Rally’s highest achievement, the Rally Master Champion title, ARCH-MX.

He has since earned five more, Houston said.

“We do the competitions because he is a shelter dog and a pit bull and I wanted to pick a sport where we could show people what shelter dogs can do,” she said.

In addition to the rally master awards, Jeffrey holds nearly 60 other titles in three dog sports, including traditional obedience title, hunting and canine work and games.

Besides the awards, Jeffrey is also a therapy dog.

Out of all the awards Jeffrey has won, Houston said receiving the shelter dog award from the American Humane Society would be a dream come true.

“You have to nominate your dog, and if the dog gets chosen, it goes into your category,” she said. “He was a finalist in 2014 in the therapy category, but we didn’t win. We haven’t entered since then because they didn’t have a shelter dog category, and when I saw they added that category, I thought it was better for Jeffrey because everything we do is to advocate for shelter dogs.”

To further the reach of Jeffrey’s impact, Houston set up Jeffrey’s Joy of Giving Donation.

“I started the drive immediately after the Sandy Hook tragedy to honor the community affected and help,” she said. “But nobody knew the reason behind it. I just wanted to spread positive energy and a place where people can come and make donations. We collect pet food and supplies, non-perishable food items and toiletries, we’ve collected all kinds of things for local charities.”

Every year, the group chooses one beneficiary.

“I wanted to do things with him that were not just in my local community. I wanted to do mainstream things with my dog,” she said.