Sobee may not have been named the 2021 American Hero Dog, but the trip to the Florida awards show was a real treat for the boxer/pit bull terrier mix from Holts Summit and her handler.
In 2016, Sobee, who was neglected and had two days left before she was to be euthanized, was rescued by K9s on the Front Line, a Maine- based nonprofit that provides trained service dogs to military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
She began her training as a service dog with Jason Howe, a disabled combat veteran affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Howe is the Midwest coordinator for K9s on the Front Line.
To train service dogs with their veterans, Howe said K9s on the Front Line uses a 22-week program. The first several weeks focus on basic obedience, then specific tasks related to the veteran's disability, and by the end of the program the service dogs and veterans are going out in public together and developing a routine.
For Howe, Sobee watches his back to act as a buffer between him and anyone that might approach him from behind. Sobee also comforts Howe when he has anxiety attacks.
Earlier this year, Sobee was named the 2021 service dog of the year in the American Hero Dog Awards after being voted to the top of the service dog category by the public; that designation earned her a place in the competion for the American Hero Dog of the Year award.
Sobee faced the challenge of defeating: Boone, a beagle mix in Pennsylvania who won as the top Therapy Dog; Little Man, the Search and Rescue Dogs winner from Oklahoma; Summer, the Military Dogs winner from Maryland; K-9 Hansel, the Law Enforcement and Detection Dogs winner from New Jersey; Deputy Chance, the Shelter Dogs winner from Florida; and Henna, the Guide/Hearing Dogs winner from New Mexico.
Boone, a therapy dog from Butler, Pennsylvania, who lost both back legs and is in a wheelchair, won the title of American Hero Dog of the Year in a televised ceremony in Florida earlier this month.
"Pretty hard to beat that one, but they are all incredible dogs," Howe said. "All seven were incredible dogs and anyone of them could have won, but I think they picked the best winner."
Howe said the whole experience was great, from filming promotion videos to encourage people to vote to the celebrity-studded award ceremony.
The experience was particularly good for Sobee, he said.
"Sobee absolutely loved it," he said. "She was spoiled rotten."
Because she won the title of 2021 service dog of the year and became a finalist, Howe said Sobee's run in the competition has come to an end. She won't be competing next year.
Howe said, however, he was proud to see Sobee honored for the work she's done helping train other service dogs.
Howe said he's hopeful the awards ceremony produced some new partnerships and sponsors, which he said would open the door to helping more veterans and service dogs as he and Sobee continue their work with K9s on the Front Line.
"If doors open up to partner with different companies, that would be perfect," Howe said. "That's what we look for and strive for."
Diamond Pet Foods is one of the organization's biggest sponsors, but Howe said everything they do is made possible through sponsorships.
In the spring, K9s on the Front Line hosts an annual banquet called the Show Me Honor Awards Dinner and last fall the organization hosted a benefit concert.
Howe said he also wants to go to more schools to spread the word about service dogs and their power to help others.