A stray cat rescued from Afghanistan, an abused Pit Bull and the autistic boy she bonded with, and a young victim of the Newtown school shooting are among the recipients of this year's ASPCA Humane Awards.
"This year's Humane Awards winners not only exemplify our mission of preventing cruelty to animals, but bring greater awareness to the unique and meaningful bond between humans and their pets," said ASPCA president and CEO Matthew Bershadker. "We're humbled by their achievements and their dedication to the voiceless and vulnerable animals who bring us so much joy."
ASPCA -- Jonny made a special connection with Xena, the Warrior Puppy.Dog of the Year
Xena the Warrior Puppy went from being at death's door to changing the life of an autistic 8-year-old boy.
Xena was a malnourished Pit Bull puppy when she was found abandoned in a DeKalb County, Ga., backyard in September 2012. Chrissy Kaczynski, one of the founders of Friends of DeKalb Animals, didn't expect the 4-month-old pup to survive, but Xena pulled through. Two months later, at a party to celebrate Xena's turnaround, the dog made a special connection with Jonny, who had been diagnosed with autism and rarely communicated with anyone. Everything changed, though, when he met Xena. With her as his faithful companion, Jonny started chatting about the world around him, singing and playing.
"He is the happiest child that I've ever seen him be in eight years," said mom Linda Hickey. "These two were destined to be together."
Xena and Jonny's story has garnered national attention, and the pair has worked to promote Autism Awareness Month as well as Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.
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ASPCA -- Koshka is enjoying her new life in Oregon, thanks to Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott.Cat of the Year
A stray cat made all the difference in the life of Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott while he was deployed in southern Afghanistan - and now he's made all the difference in hers.
Named Koshka, which is Russian for cat, the kitty was by Knott's side as he mourned the death of two of his closest friends, who were killed in the bombing of a military convoy.
When Knott's tour ended, he wanted to bring Koshka back to Oregon with him, but it wasn't easy. Knott's pals convinced a daring translator to make a risky trip to Kabul with the feline. From there, the soldier's parents paid the $3,000 cost to fly Koshka to the U.S. But it was all worth it: Koshka is now living peacefully in Oregon with Knott's family.
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ASPCA -- Catherine Hubbard connected with her own animals, as well as wild animals. Kid of the Year
At age 6, Catherine Hubbard had a special way with animals. The little girl, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on Dec. 14, could often be overheard whispering to animals and insects, "Tell your friends I am kind."
Catherine even created her own rescue, complete with business cards, which named her as "Care Taker at Catherine's Animal Shelter."
Since her tragic death, Catherine's parents have worked to honor her memory by making her dreams a reality. They've asked that donations be made to The Animal Center in Newtown, Conn., where they're hoping to build the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, "a place where all creatures, great and small, are rescued, respected and loved."
The ASPCA's annual Humane Awards luncheon will be held on Nov. 21 in New York City.