The American Kennel Club bestows many awards to dogs, among them is the prestigious American Canine Excellence (ACE) award. Along with Surf Dog Ricochet, last year’s winner was Wyatt, a 2 year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, who works as a service dog with his owner/handler, Janice Wolfe.
The American Kennel Club started recognizing the extraordinary way in which dogs meaningfully contribute to human lives with the ACE award in 1999. This award is given to AKC-registered dogs that have performed an exemplary act that has significantly impacted a community or individual. One award is given for each of the five categories: law enforcement; search and rescue; therapy; service; and exemplary companion dog.
Wolfe told USA Today, “I have people say to me, ‘It’s one thing to win Best in Show at Westminster, but it’s another to win an ACE award. He is the youngest dog to ever win the award.”
Wolfe is the founder of Merlin’s Kids, a non-profit organization that provides free service dogs to veterans as well as children with developmental disabilities, including autism. Wyatt’s job is to accompany Janice on home visits. While there, he “interprets” the needs of the child and helps Wolfe determine whether a service dog is a good fit based on their interaction with Wyatt.
If she discovers that a service dog would be a great assistance to the child, she goes to the shelter, picks out a dog, takes him home, and trains him. Wolfe then delivers the dog to his new family, and she does it all with her own time and money, at no cost to the family.
“I go to a family’s home with Wyatt and watch how a child interacts with him,” Wolfe told USA Today. “He understands children. It’s the coolest thing. He’s a natural.”
It’s no coincidence that her partner is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Wolfe has been breeding Rhodesians for 23 years. But that’s not the only reason she uses Rhodesians – they were bred to watch over children.
According to dogbreedinfo.com, “The Rhodesian Ridgeback originated in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and worked as a hunting dog and a retriever, took care of children, and guarded property.”
Because Rhodesians are fine-tuned to the needs of children, it’s no surprise that Wyatt has already helped hundreds of children with developmental disabilities. One autistic child, Robbie McNaugthon, was terrified of animals – even birds. When Wyatt first met Robbie, he became very upset, but Wyatt remained calm, refusing to budge. This quality is why Wolfe chose Wyatt as her partner.
“Almost from the moment he was born, Wyatt seemed to have a unique affinity for disabled children, particularly those with autism,” said Wolfe, according to NJ.com.
Wyatt has a long career ahead of him as a service dog. And because of his work, he and Wolfe will be able to provide children and veterans with the help they need through service dogs.