The Serena’s Star award, named for the now 11-year-old Labrador and German shepherd mix, will be given to a local animal that has gone above and beyond being a normal pet.
“There are so many animals that enrich our lives in so many ways ...,” said Chrissey Miller, the development director of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken, which will be giving the award. “You always hear these fantastic stories that are maybe once in a lifetime.”
People generally think of dogs, such as guide and police dogs, as giving back while working, but Miller said a family pet saving someone from drowning or waking the family when there’s an intruder still deserves to be honored. Other animals such as horses, which provide therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, are also giving back.
The idea for the award started about 18 months ago with Serena’s owner and handler Steve Briggs, of Beech Island. Briggs hopes the award can create an awareness of how animals contribute to society.
Serena was picked up off the street and had hours left to live when she was sent to a foster family through Molly’s Militia. The Briggses were traveling through Aiken looking for a replacement to a family pet that had died; they saw an ad for Serena in the newspaper.
Briggs never thought of using her for therapy until he took Serena to a dog training course where the instructor commented on her overly calm demeanor and made the suggestion.
The family was living in Florida when Serena received her certification with a complex rating. The rating meant Serena had been approved to work in the most difficult circumstances and with patients having dementia or psychosis and with abused children.
In 2008, when the family moved back to Beech Island, Serena began visiting with veterans, at the children’s hospital, nursing homes and schools with special needs children. Since then she has appeared in the book To the Rescue: Found Dogs with a Mission and in the Beech Island Films documentary Paw Prints: Serena’s Story.
“It amazes me the impact they (therapy dogs) can have,” Briggs said.
Briggs could recall numerous “God moments” involving Serena. In ICU at the Georgia Regents Medical Center Children’s Hospital, a 3-year-old who had not moved in several days crawled over to cuddle with the fluffy black dog. During another visit, Briggs had trouble getting Serena to leave a patient’s room, which is usually not a problem, but minutes after he left the patient died.
Now Serena is nearing retirement, works less and mostly with children, but Briggs said he didn’t want the work she’s done to be forgotten.
The Serena’s Star winner will be invited to a luncheon, receive a plaque and win $500 from the Briggses. The award will be given annually.