This 150-pound Great Dane was just given ‘hero dog’ status

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If Maverick, a 150-pound European Blue Great Dane, puts his paw on you, it might be because you need it.

Maverick’s job as a therapy dog is to comfort military members and their families from across the country. His go-to move is placing his paw on the person he’s seeking to soothe.

“A sign of a good therapy dog is a dog that always wants to touch you,” said Maverick’s owner, Kelly Brownfield, who lives in Saint Robert, Mo., and is the manager at the Fort Leonard Wood United Service Organizations Club. “He just has a sense of knowing what people need.”

When service members die, Maverick escorts their children to their funerals, and he also visits with service members after unexpected deaths in their units. Each week, he spends time with students at schools, and focuses mostly on children struggling with their classes.

While Maverick can initially be intimidating given his size, “he is literally a gentle giant,” Brownfield said. “His whole aura about him is calming.”

Plus, “he is the perfect size for everything that we do. He is literally their rock; they can lean on him and he is there for them,” she added. “The one thing about this breed is that they have the heart to match.”

On Nov. 6, the 6-year-old gentle giant was selected from a group of hundreds of other dogs and named 2023 American Humane Hero Dog.

People around the country nominate hundreds of dogs each year in five categories for American Humane’s Hero Dog Award: law enforcement and first responder dogs; service and guide or hearing dogs; therapy dogs; military dogs; and emerging hero and shelter dogs.

A winner for each category was chosen in September, then the five finalists went on to compete for the top Hero Dog title.

Maverick — who won the therapy dogs category, and beat the four other finalists, including service dog Moxie, Coast Guard K-9 Buda, emerging hero Raina and police dog Poppy — was selected by a panel of judges as the overall winner.

American Humane, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, is known for the “No Animals Were Harmed” certification it gives to film or television productions when animals are featured. The group has been awarding the Hero Dog designation since 2011 to pups that “make the world a kinder place,” said Robin Ganzert, the organization’s president and chief executive officer.

“Shining a spotlight on the four-legged heroes that live among us is part of that mission,” Ganzert said.

Rick Morris — who retired as a command sergeant major in 2006 after serving in the U.S. Army for 23 years — attended his nephew’s funeral in Saint James, Mo., in April, after his nephew, Rusten Smith, 32, was killed in a helicopter crash in March.

Smith had three children, and Maverick stood by their sides at Smith’s funeral.

“Maverick just knew that they needed to see him,” Morris said. “The kids clung onto him.”

“The weight and burden of whatever that soldier is dealing with at the time, I see it just disappear in the face of seeing Maverick,” Morris said. “They smile, they cheer, their face changes, their body changes.”

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