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Show honoring local search, rescue dog airs tonight

An awards show honoring a local hero dog for his efforts in locating a hunter on Blair Mountain will be aired tonight.

Soot, an 8-year-old black Labrador retriever from Big Chimney, was named Search and Rescue Hero Dog of the Year earlier this year after receiving the most votes in the American Humane Association's online contest. Soot was honored in October in a star-studded ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The dog flew with his owner/handler, Lorrie Burdette, 54, from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles for the awards show in October. Burdette, who was accompanied on the trip by her husband, Randy, said Soot received star treatment when they arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport.

"I guess they knew we were coming because they treated him like a movie star," Burdette said. "It was all 'Oh there he is,' and 'There's our boy.' "

They flew Jet Blue, and Soot, who weighs about 90 pounds, was permitted to sit up front with Burdette and her husband. She said flight attendants gave Soot a pillow and blanket, which he used when lying on the floor. He slept for most of the flight but would stir when other passengers stopped by to visit.

"Everybody had to come by and pet him," Burdette said. "He was in hog heaven. He just loved the attention."

At the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Soot was the center of attention. She said the other dog owners played with Soot and he was friendly to all.  

At the awards show, hosted by starlet Kristen Chenowith with special guest and animal rights activist Betty White, dogs from eight categories were honored. Those categories are search and rescue, law enforcement and arson, military, service, therapy, hearing, guide and emerging hero.

White met with each of the dogs and their handlers, Burdette said.

"She was so sweet and just loved on all the dogs."  

Each dog won $5,000 for its charity partner. Soot's is the Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve. The winner of the American Hero Dog award, which was selected the night of the show, received an additional $10,000 for its charity.

Each dog also received a number of gifts and mementos.

Soot drew attention by finding Leroy Nease, a hunter who had gone missing on Blair Mountain last November. Soot tracked Nease's scent while Burdette called out for the hunter.

They found Nease, a diabetic who was tired but otherwise all right, sitting on the ground with a small fire. Soot sniffed him and then came back to Burdette seeking his prize, a tennis ball. It was the first find for Soot, who had been certified in search and rescue for two years.

"We just feel like we're really privileged that we're part of such a good team and that people took the time to vote for us," Burdette said. "It was an over-the-top experience and we were privileged to go."

The show will air at 8 p.m. on Hallmark Channel.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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