MOUNT KISCO, N.Y.— When Marissa Levy got her standard poodle, Stella, two years ago, it was immediately clear this was a special dog.
Now, Stella has been named Therapy Dog of the Year at the 2nd Annual American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, based on her work at Richmond Community Services in Mount Kisco, a not-for-profit organization that cares for developmentally disabled children and adults.
The awards show premieres on The Hallmark Channel on Thursday at 8 p.m. and is hosted by television, film and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth.
"For me, I had lost my dad and my best friend three months apart," said Levy, who is from New Rochelle, so Stella was like a miracle dog, helping Levy recover from these losses and learn to love again.
Stella, now two years and five months old, was certified by Therapy Dogs International in July 2011. She began volunteering soon after at Richmond in Mount Kisco, which houses 76 people who have significant intellectual, medical, and physical disabilities.
At one point, Stella was making twelve visits a week at nine different programs and homes, but now spends most of her volunteer hours at Richmond and Gilda's Club, a cancer-support organization in White Plains.
Stacy Lynn Rivera, the volunteer program specialist for Richmond Community Services, submitted Stella’s nomination for the award. As her charity partner for the competition, Levy chose Angel on a Leash, a therapy- dog program that works in health-care facilities, schools, and rehabilitation, hospice, extended care, correctional and crisis-intervention facilities.
Levy said therapy-dog training and certification is based on obedience and tests whether a dog is comfortable around other people as well as around medical equipment such as wheelchairs, canes and crutches.
The awards show, which honors dogs in eight different service categories, such as law enforcement, military, guide dogs, and search and rescue, was taped a month ago, Levy said. "We hung out with Betty White and Carson Kressley," she said. "It was definitely an experience."
Thursday’s show includes appearances by a number of celebrities, including White, Denise Richards, Michael Vartan, Pauley Perrette, Joey Lawrence, Naomi Judd, Miranda Lambert, Whoopi Goldberg and Jewel.