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February 12, 2009

Congressional Canine Champions Honored by The HSUS

Reps. Hodes, Jones Receive Awards for Uniting Families of Fallen Servicemen with their Dogs

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — It was fitting that, in a room full of man's best friends, The Humane Society of the United States honored two great friends of dogs in the U.S. Congress.

Before a packed house that included dogs belonging to legislators and their staff, members of the U.S. Capitol Police K-9 team, and one very special military veteran dog, The Humane Society of the United States paid tribute Tuesday night to Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. Their efforts enabled the families of American servicemen killed in Iraq to be united with the dogs their loved ones had bonded with overseas.

"Dogs have a very special place in American culture," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "The families of the young men who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country obviously wanted to be with the creatures who shared their last moments, and The HSUS is so pleased and proud to honor Congressmen Hodes and Jones for uniting them."

Hero's Story

Rep. Hodes was contacted in 2007 by the fiancée of Army Spc. Justin Rollins, who had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq earlier that year. She told the congressman that Rollins had found an orphaned puppy on his last day and showed pictures of him and the brown-and-white pup.

Although the dog was no longer in the same location when they went looking for her, members of Rollins' unit combed the area, Hodes said. Days later, they found her. With a lot of help along the way, they got the little dog named Hero to Rollins' fiancée, Brittney Murray, and his parents in Newport, N.H.

"I was moved by the challenge of bringing a dog back from Iraq to give some comfort to the family of a brave soldier who had died," said Rep. Hodes. "I could not think of anything more important that I could do for his fiancée and his family."

Lex's Story

Jerome and Rachel Lee attended the Congressional Canine Honors event with their dog, Lex, who was the special guest of honor on an evening filled with many touching moments and images. He's an inspiration and a living reminder of their son, Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee, who was killed while serving in Iraq.

The 8-year-old, bomb-sniffing German shepherd was at Dustin Lee's side in March 2007, when he was killed by a rocket propelled grenade. Shrapnel from the explosion was buried in Lex's back and side, and he nearly lost his tail, yet he recovered enough to be cleared for duty. After learning what had happened, however, Lee's parents were determined to adopt Lex.

"They spent so much time together, training and getting ready for their mission," said Lee's father, Jerome. "Dustin loved Lex and Lex loved Dustin. To have a part of Dustin back from the Marine Corps has really helped our family."

"This was the right thing to do," said Rep. Jones of his actions being honored at this special event. "The family never asked for anything. They gave their son for this country, and the only thing they wanted was the dog that he loved and had been his comrade in war time."

The night featured a blessing by a Congressional Chaplain and a Marine Honor Guard escorting the colors. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., spoke about his late dog, Charlotte. The beloved English springer spaniel typically came to work with Hoyer on the Hill and even had her own bed in his office. After many years of loyal companionship, Charlotte passed away in 2007 at the age of 15. As the Majority Leader said, "God invented dogs for us, to give us the kind of uncompromising love that human beings need, and we in turn give them the same kind of love."

Celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller presented a video about Operation Heroes and Hounds, a  pilot program she helped launch at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Southern California. She is teaching wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan how to train shelter dogs to make the dogs more adoptable. This innovative program, which is demonstrably healing broken lives — both canine and human — may expand to military bases throughout the country.

The evening closed on a more lighthearted note, celebrating congressional canine companions  with the announcement of the winners of The HSUS' first Congressional Dog Photo Contest: Best Campaigner was Georgie, belonging to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; Best Briefed was Como, belonging to Jody Comeaux-Stacoffe from the office of Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La.; Elder Statesdog was Camembert, belonging to Craley Funfgeld from the office of Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.; Rising Star was Jake, belonging to Christy Hale, also from Whitfield's office; Barker of the House was Hoover, belonging to Renee Howell from the office of Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind.; and Senate Pawjority Leader was Lucy, belonging to Mary Conley from the office of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

To view a video of this event, please click here.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org. 

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