11/09/2012 02:42 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Heroes Walk Among Us... On All Fours

According to the 2011-2012 pet owners' survey sponsored by the American Pet Products Association, 39 percent of U.S. households own at least one of the 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States. Twenty-one percent of these dogs were adopted from an animal shelter. There are well-documented studies that profess the positive impact dog ownership can have on human beings, running the full spectrum from seeing eye dogs for the blind to comfort dogs for those who suffer from depression. Yet, on many occasions a few dogs transcend these experiences and demonstrate a level of service that can only be categorized as heroic.

Enter the American Humane Association. Founded in 1877, the AHA has become "the nation's voice for the protection of children and animals." Part of the organization's mandate includes "working in association with American first responders, civic leaders, animal protection advocates, healthcare providers and families to help prepare for a cope when crises and disasters strike." Who better to honor the service dogs who go above and beyond the status of fluffy little friend to become life savers?

On Thursday, November 8th, the Hallmark Channel will air the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards (check your local listings for time and channel). Presented by the Lois Pope Life Foundation, Inc., the show resembles any other awards gala. Celebrities introduce the finalists in categories including Search and Rescue Dogs, Service Dogs, Military Dogs, Law Enforcement/Arson Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs. Perhaps the most moving story of the evening tells the story of Daniel -- a beagle who survived a gas chamber that killed 18 other dogs. Named after the Biblical survivor of the lion's den, Daniel now serves as a spokes-dog for shelter adoptions.

In times of economic hardship, the monthly cost of dog ownership -- food and treats, leashes, collars and routine vet care -- can push past the financial limits of a family. Dogs are abandoned at a rate far greater than the ability of shelters and local ASPCA facilities to care for them until suitable homes are found. Yet, in listening to the stories of the men and women whose lives have been enriched by their relationship with these heroes, what emerges is a narrative of human life that would have literally been cut short without the support of these tail-wagging, face-licking critters.

While some may be dismissive and claim dogs don't understand dangerous situations, these dogs demonstrate a significant degree of training that enhances natural sensory talents and skills. They are trained to know when there is danger and -- like all other first responders -- they are trained to run toward the danger to do their job. Surely, they are deserving of one night on the red carpet. So, this Thursday, curl up in your favorite chair and let Betty White, Kristen Chenoweth, Jewel and many of your favorite celebrity dog lovers introduce you to their best friends. Then consider the possibility of opening your heart and your home (and your wallet) to a pup that needs to be rescued.