Every year at the ASPCA Humane Awards, the ASPCA honors incredible animal and human heroes who reflect our dedication to animal welfare and honor the cherished role animals play in our lives.
Held on October 12, 2023, and hosted by WNBC News Anchor Chuck Scarborough, this year’s event once again shared inspiring stories of commitment, hope and compassion for both animals and people.
Read about and watch official video profiles of each 2023 Humane Award winner below.
ASPCA Dog of the Year: Cole the Deaf Dog
Cole, a deaf pit bull, was adopted from South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter by Chris Hannah, a South New Jersey public school music teacher, in 2017. With his ability to respond to sign language and working alongside his owner, Cole inspired a unique social-emotional learning program in the school and has become an ambassador for people and pets with special needs through the Team Cole Project. Cole’s message: A disability is not an inability—it’s a superpower.
As a certified therapy dog, Cole has worked alongside Chris for the last five years at the Dr. William Mennies Elementary School in Vineland, New Jersey, teaching kids to embrace their differences and develop courage and self-respect. His presence inspires acts of kindness throughout the community.
Cole is also a hospice therapy volunteer and the official mascot of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home. During weekly visits, Cole helps aging veterans find new strength and enthusiasm for life. Through Cole the Deaf Dog & Friends Foundation, Chris and Cole spend their summers visiting and supporting special education summer programs and care facilities across the tri-state area.
ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Award: Cory Booker
A United States Senator since 2013 and a vocal advocate for animal welfare throughout his career, Cory Booker has written and championed bills to expand economic opportunity, establish equal justice, protect vulnerable animals and fix the broken and inhumane American food system.
In 2023, Senator Booker introduced groundbreaking animal welfare legislation, including the Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act, the Farm System Reform Act and the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act, which would help transition the U.S. farm system away from a brutal factory farming model and toward a system rooted in compassion and fairness by creating new protections for billions of farm animals. The bills would also protect workers, independent farmers and communities endangered by the rise of industrial animal agriculture.
In previous years, Senator Booker co-sponsored the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which would stop the cruel practice of soring for certain show horses; the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would prohibit the slaughter of U.S. horses; and the AWARE Act, which would extend the protections of the Animal Welfare Act to farm animals in federal research facilities.
A vegan and Rhodes Scholar, Senator Booker began focusing on animal welfare policy during his time as Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. In 2012, he advocated for passing an ordinance restricting the inhumane treatment of pigs and other farm animals in the city. He also made news when he personally assisted local dogs in need, including one left out in the cold and another who’d been locked in a crate for four days.
ASPCA Henry Bergh Award: Dr. Terry Morris
Veterinarian Dr. Terry Morris founded Vets To Vets United, Inc. in 2012 with the mission of providing free service animals, therapeutic animals and emotional support animals, as well as free veterinary care for those animals, to military veterans suffering from loneliness, depression, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other physical disabilities. To date, the program has matched 180 veterans with support animals and supported more than 90 local animals.
Responding to the tragic statistic that more than 20 veterans take their own lives every day and countless veterans recounting how their working animals saved their lives, Dr. Morris conceived and personally championed this opportunity to serve both veterans and shelter animals needing homes. Vets To Vets’ two-year training program teaches veterans how to best support and care for their new pet partners—who are identified and matched by local shelters—and monitors those relationships continuously.
The winner of many national awards for her service to veterans and rescue animals, Dr. Morris, a native of Durham, North Carolina, formerly chaired the Health Committee of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, where she organized health care clinics for uninsured residents, volunteered for the Community Health Coalition and founded and directed a summer day camp for at-risk children.
Dr. Terry Morris’ passion for helping animals started in her childhood, and she later earned her DVM from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine and a Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She dedicates Vets To Vets to her father, a Tuskegee Air Force bomber pilot killed in action during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and her sister, also a Tuskegee Air Force pilot.
ASPCA Equine Welfare Award: Saddle Up and Read
Saddle Up and Read, a nonprofit founded by horse lover Caitlin Gooch in 2017, uses the powerful bond between people and horses to encourage and improve youth literacy in the North Carolina area, particularly in communities of color. More than 1,000 children have attended Saddle Up and Read events since 2016.
A passionate rider and equine advocate who began riding horses with her father on their family’s farm, Caitlin brings her horses to reading and story time events to help children develop a love for both reading and horses. During horse activities at her family’s farm, kids interact with horses, learn about the contributions of Black riders to the equestrian world and learn about horse care, grooming and riding.
Known widely as “The Black Cowgirl,” Caitlin is a mother of four and a prominent ambassador for Black equestrians and hosts North Carolina Public Radio’s podcast show, “The Story Stables.” In October 2022, Caitlin was inducted into the Wake County Public School System Hall of Fame for community service.
ASPCA Public Service Award: Officer Jorge Aquino and Mann
Acting under the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Canine Program pairs specially-trained dogs and CBP officers to, among other duties, detect and seize controlled substances and other contraband—including fentanyl—as they first enter the country.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, is a major contributor to drug overdose deaths in America, representing more than 87% of the more than 80,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2021.
Fighting this national threat is a remarkable and heroic CBP officer-canine duo: Canine Enforcement Officer Jorge Aquino and K9 Mann, a male, red-haired German Shepard. Working out of the Nogales, Arizona field office of the U.S. Border Patrol, the two search for and sniff out controlled substances in private and commercial freight, luggage, mail and premises. Their interdictions to date include 153 pounds of cocaine, 122 pounds of heroin and an astounding 943 pounds of fentanyl.
The bond between Officer Aquino and Mann goes well beyond their professional duties. When Mann severely injured his hind leg in 2022, Officer Aquino was by his side after emergency surgery and during his remarkable 12-week recovery and return to active duty. Officer Aquino plans to adopt Mann upon the dog’s retirement.
Congratulations again to all our 2023 honorees! We hope they continue to inspire others to take action and advocate for animals in need.
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