Michigan dog overcomes disease, wins national search and rescue award

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A Michigan dog has been chosen for a national canine award recognizing his outstanding service in search and rescue teams despite suffering a debilitating cervical condition, officials say.

JoePete, also known as "JP," is an 8-year-old Doberman Pinscher owned by Cris Bean of Eaton Rapids. Together, they volunteer with Michigan Search and Rescue, a missing persons response organization. 

JoePete, a Doberman Pinscher owned and handled by Cris Bean of Eaton Rapids, Michigan.

JoePete is the recipient of this year's search and rescue dog award given by the American Kennel Club Humane Fund.

The American Canine Excellence awards celebrate dogs who do extraordinary things to service humankind, officials said. Five awards are given each year to dogs in categories of exemplary companion, service dog, therapy dog, search and rescue, and uniformed services K9. Since its creation in 2000, 95 awards have been presented to dogs nominated across the nation.

Bean rescued JoePete in 2010. After noticing JoePete's skills, he placed him in a human remains training program where he progressed rapidly. But just prior to achieving his certification, JoePete was diagnosed with early Wobbler’s disease, a term referring to several possible malformations of the cervical vertebrae that cause a wobbly gait and weakness in dogs and horses.

Despite his diagnosis, JoePete achieved his certification with Michigan Search and Rescue and with two national organizations as well. He has since participated in 29 missing person searches, helping to bring closure to many grieving families, officials said.

He also has aided in graveyard reconstruction projects by historical societies and landowners by helping to locate burial sites in forgotten cemeteries in and around Michigan.

He earned his AKC Canine Good Citizen certification and has become a certified therapy dog through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. 

Officials say he was chosen for the award because, despite his battle with Wobblers, his strength, work ethic, determination and loving spirit shine through every single day in his search and rescue work.

"JoePete is also an ambassador in his community, participating in educational demonstrations with children, adults and individuals with special needs," AKC officials said in statement. "JoePete and his owner, Cris Bean, are a dynamic search and rescue team and have contributed immensely in their community."


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