MacKenzie, a seven-year-old Chihuahua ,was named "America's Hero Dog" on October 19, 2020 (Credit: American Humane)

Dogs are often referred to as "man’s best friend." But MacKenzie, a four-pound Chihuahua, who was named winner of the 2020 American Hero Dog competition on October 19, 2020, is making the world a better place for humans and animals alike.

Now in its tenth year, the annual contest is the brainchild of American Humane, the country's first national non-profit dedicated to the safety and well-being of animals. Often called the "Oscars for dogs," the prestigious award recognizes canines who make inordinate contributions to society.

“The American Humane Hero Dog Awards were created to honor some of the world’s most extraordinary heroes,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “These heroic canines have gone above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives on the battlefield, comforting the ill and aged, and reminding us of the powerful, age-old bond between animals and people.”

This year's competition attracted over 400 entries from across the country. The dogs, nominated in one of seven categories — search and rescue, guide/hearing, military, law enforcement, therapy, service, and shelter — were quickly whittled down to seven finalists by popular vote. While all were impressive, it was tiny MacKenzie, the shelter category winner, who won the judges' hearts.

The seven finalists for the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Award were chosen by popular vote (Credit: American Humane)

MacKenzie's path to stardom was not easy. Born at a rescue shelter in Hilton, New York, in 2013, she had a cleft palate that required her to be tube fed for the first year of her life. However, despite her own struggles, MacKenzie always seemed more concerned about other animals in distress. “I have never seen such a will to live. She was sick, but more concerned with the baby animals at the rescue,” said the caretaker who nominated her for the award.

A life-saving cleft palate surgery, performed in 2014, gave MacKenzie the ability to eat and drink independently, enabling the tiny canine to focus on doing what she loved most: taking care of others. The seven-year-old Chihuahua is now gainfully "employed" by the Mia Foundation, a Rochester, New York-based non-profit that shelters and nurtures animals with congenital disabilities.

MacKenzie also visits schools to educate kids about the importance of accepting physical differences (Credit: American Humane)

According to an American Humane press release, MacKenzi's official job is "to provide love and care for baby rescue animals born with birth defects." The Chihuahua excels at her job and has nurtured many different species — from puppies to kittens to turkeys, squirrels, birds and even a goat. "MacKenzie takes an interest in each baby [animal] from day one ... she plays nurse and cleans, comforts, and cuddles them," the release says. "She acts as their mother and teaches them how to socialize, play, and have good manners."

In addition to her role as an animal caretaker, MacKenzie also has the important job of greeting the foundation's volunteers and friends. The incredible canine, who has lost her ability to bark, also visits area schools to help children understand and empathize with physical disabilities in both animals and people. Her heartwarming and inspiring story makes MacKenzie a worthy recipient of America's top canine honor!