Milford dog rescued from high-kill shelter in running for national 'hero' award

Photo of Joseph Tucci
Jeffrey.

Jeffrey.

Michele Houston / contributed

MILFORD - Jeffrey, known as "The Positively Peaceful Pit Bull, who went from being on death's doorstep to being a source of comfort for others, is a candidate to receive a 2022 Hero Dog Award. 

The American Humane Hero Dog Awards is an annual competition that aims to recognize "ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things," its website states. Awards are given for seven categories; law enforcement and detection dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, military dogs, guide/hearing dogs, search and rescue dogs and shelter dogs. Jeffrey is currently a semi-finalist in the shelter dogs category, meaning he's in the top three of dogs people voted for online. Individuals can vote daily until July 22.

His owner, Milford native Michele Houston, said she entered Jeffrey in the shelter dogs category as a way to advocate for the millions of dogs who still need homes. If he wins he will get a chance to compete for the overall Hero Dog Award of 2022 in November in Florida. 

"The whole point is to show the world what shelter dogs can do," Houston said. "We want people to not pre-judge a dog just because it might have landed in a shelter through no fault of their own. They need to be given a chance."

Jeffrey was rescued from Manhattan Animal Care & Control's euthanasia list in 2010 at the "eleventh hour." Houston became aware of Jeffrey when she posted his information on an animal rescue social media page. The dog was initially adopted by an animal rescuer, Samantha Bloom, before finding a permanent home with Houston. Houston says she and Bloom have been friends ever since. Jeffrey is named after a shelter worker of the same name who put Houston in touch with Bloom.

"I owe everything to them, they gave me a great gift by saving [Jeffrey,]" Houston said. 

Jeffrey became a registered Pet Partners therapy dog in 2012. Even though Jeffrey passed many evaluations to become a therapy dog, Houston felt that Pet Partners was the best fit because of its "rigorous" curriculum for both her and the dog. 

He has comforted those at The Cove Center for Grieving Children, Camp Erin Connecticut, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven, Sandy Hook and the Grand Avenue Library. Jeffrey also likes to play with cats, Houston said. 

According to his owner, Jeffrey's signature attire is painted nails. She started painting his nails because some children in a reading program were afraid of him since they had "seen dogs like him in a different light in their neighborhoods," however, they found the colorful nails "hilarious" and it helped break the ice. From time to time Houston would let children suggest which colors his nails should be painted next.

Jeffrey also competes in the World Cynosport Rally Obedience, during which dogs can show off their obedience skills by following their owners around an obstacle course and by performing exercises. He has won multiple awards including becoming the first pit bull ever to win the highest achievement, ARCH-MX, in 2019. He also ranked No. 1 in the ARCH-MX division in 2020 and ranked No. 2 overall in the country in 2021. 

"Today Jeffrey is the highest achieving pit bull in the entire sport," Houston said. "But I'm hoping that will change [someday] and someone will beat our record.

In 2018, Jeffrey made an appearance on the cover of Pinups for Pitbulls’ annual calendar, alongside founder Deirdre Franklin, who Houston called an "advocacy hero." Pinups for Pitbulls is an organization founded in 2005 that is "striving toward all dogs being accepted as individuals," according to its mission statement.

Each December over the past 10 years, Houston has also worked to honor those who were affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy with "Jeffrey’s Joy of Giving Donation Drive." Jeffrey was deployed to help in Sandy Hook in 2012 and developed a special bond with a child affected by the tragedy, which has continued over the years, Houston said. 

The charity has collected around two tons of pet food, 150 coats, non-perishable food items and toiletries for homeless shelters, as well as around $7,000, according to Jeffrey's web page on Hero Dog Awards. It has worked with various 501 c3 charities including, local pet food pantries and shelters, Sandy Hook Promise, Dylan's Wings of Change, Collide New York, Veterinary Care Foundation, The Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, The COVE Center for Grieving Children and I AM ALS.

"He is magical. He is just so special, the kindest soul," Houston said. "I'm so blessed."