Hank Wins 2023 Service Dog Award for Canine Excellence

Hank, a three-year-old German Shepherd, is being recognized for the impact he has had on the life of ten-year-old Harrison Brimner. Harrison, who lives in Aliquippa, PA, has autism and Hank assists him with a variety of tasks throughout the day. “We’re able to do things we previously couldn’t,” says Megan Brimner, Harrison’s mother. “Since Hank came into our home three years ago, he has been the best thing that has ever happened to our family.”

For his work with Harrison, Hank was named the 2023 American Kennel Club Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) in the Service Dog category. Prior to Hank's arrival, Megan says, “We were having issues with Harrison’s aggressiveness, due to him being nonverbal,” Megan says. “The only way he could express his displeasure or protest was to act out physically – hitting, pinching, biting, etc.”

Things such as going out to eat at a restaurant, riding in a car, or going to the store were not a reality for the Brimner family. “Previously, Harrison could not deal with grocery shopping and would become overstimulated by the lights and sounds. Now he’s able to enter the store without a problem, helps put items in the cart and assists in checking out.” Megan says. “[Harrison] can get through it without getting aggressive. He’s found other ways to cope with change and activities he may not love.”

Additionally, Harrison used to escape from the house by any means necessary. “We had put up a fence, put alarms on our doors and share with our neighbors that he will attempt to run away," Megan describes. Now with Hank, he is there to protect and ensure Harrison does not run away, whether at home or in a parking lot for instance. 

K9s for Kids Chief Executive and Founder, Steve Kiray, meet the family and heard of their difficulties and what they were looking for from a service dog. “We knew when we left that day,” she said, “that we had to make this happen for Harrison.” A fund was then set up to assist in paying for a service dog for Harrison. 

Steve had a litter of dogs for the family to meet and decide which one would be best for Harrison. Unfortunately because of the long car ride, Harrison was upset and would not leave the car. Megan says, “Steve said not to worry and told Paul and I to just play with the puppies and get a feel for them, to hopefully coax Harrison out of car.”

The dogs wore colored collars to help identify them, and while the couple met them, one stood out. This puppy wore a red collar and the Brimner's instantly felt a connection. In April of 2020, the red collar dog was brought home and welcomed into the family. The family had a rule that only Harrison was allowed to feed to dog to help build a connection.

Additionally, the dog was named Hank, short for Henry. “If we were to have a third child we were going to name him Henry. Hank, for short, after Indiana Jones,” Megan says. “We gave the name to this special German Shepherd [Dog]. It just fit.”

“It took only two days to housebreak Hank,” Megan says. Crate training required four or five. Hank whined for the first few nights, but quickly learned he was dealing with two very active boys and that his crate was his refuge, not a punishment.”

He soon began the year long process of training to become a service dog. Some of the work included scent training so Hank could track down Harrison if he ran away. This training continued and had paid huge dividends for the family. After many months of training and practice, the family is now able to go out to eat or shop at a store. Additionally, Harrison is doing much better behaviorally. 

Hank has not just made an impact on Harrison along, but rather the entire family. He gets along great with the family's fourteen-year-old blind dog, Jack Bauer. “Whenever Jack Bauer goes outside to the bathroom, Hank accompanies him and won’t come back inside without him,” says Megan. “You might say Hank is the complete family dog.”

Congratulations to Hank on the outstanding honor!


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