Saturday, 25 May 2024

Local dog wins national Dog of Valor honor

Buster, a golden retriever who lives in Lucerne with the Sorenson family, is among the first Humane Society of the United States Dog of Valor award winners. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LUCERNE – A big-hearted golden retriever who was adopted as a puppy from Lake County Animal Care and Control has been named among the first field of honorees for a new national honor for canine heroes.

Buster, who lives in Lucerne with his family, the Sorensons, received his Humane Society of the United States Dog of Valor medal on Wednesday in a small ceremony at the new animal shelter on Helbush near Lakeport.

Chris Sorenson, 47, adopted Buster as a 5-week-old puppy from the local animal shelter. In the 11 years they've been together, Buster has served as a service dog for Sorenson, who has no sight in his right eye due to glaucoma, besides suffering from numerous other health issues, including a heart condition.

Buster was honored Wednesday for action he took to save his master and family on the morning of Nov. 22, 2007 – Thanksgiving Day.

Sorenson was in bed that morning asleep, recovering from back surgery in which four discs in his back were replaced.

He was awakened by Buster jumping up and hitting him in the back with his paws.

“When I woke up there was a flame shooting a foot and a half out of the wall,” said Sorenson, explaining that a faulty electrical outlet had started to catch the house on fire.

He got up and evacuated his wife and three children, all of them meeting in the front yard of their Fifth Avenue home in Lucerne.

Sorenson, a former volunteer firefighter with Upper Lake, then took a fire extinguisher and a claw hammer and went in and made sure the fire was out. A foot and a half of wiring and a stud in the 1930s-era home were damaged, but no major harm was done.

“Basically, he saved the house,” Sorenson said of Buster.

After a few hours of repair, the family was able to sit down together for Thanksgiving dinner.

“We had a lot to be thankful for,” said Sorenson.

Paul Bruce, regional program director for the western regional office of the Humane Society of the United States, traveled from Sacramento to bestow the honor on Buster. He said Buster was nominated through a letter sent to the group.

This is the Dog of Valor award's inaugural year, said Bruce.

Seven dogs were honored, including three companion dog runners-up, three runners-up from the working group (including Buster) and one grand prize (see below for details on the other winners).

The grand prize was awarded posthumously to Buffy, a 7-year-old German shepherd from Oakland who was shot while trying to protect her master, Will Bartley, from an armed gunman who attempted to rob Bartley as he was returning home from work. Buffy later died from health complications exacerbated by her wounds.

Bruce said the Humane Society of the United States had offered a reward for her shooter, who has not been found. Later, the group decided to start the Dog of Valor award, and he put Buffy's case forward.

Buffy, Buster and the other winners were chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, among them tennis great Martina Navratilova; dog trainer Tamar Geller; animal activist Candy Spelling, widow of the late TV producer Aaron Spelling; and Silvio Horta, creator/executive producer of the TV show, “Ugly Betty.”

Bruce said he was on an animal evacuation mission for the Humboldt Fire in Butte County earlier this year when he got the call about Buffy and the other dogs being chosen for the award.

“I enjoy my job,” said Bruce, who got some kisses from Buster. “I get to meet a lot of nice dogs.”

Buster is with Chris Sorenson all day, every day. He walks on Sorenson's right side to prevent him from walking into objects which he can't see because he's lost sight in his right eye. Buster sleeps with Sorenson at night, gets him his medicine bag, and uses his calm presence to keep Sorenson's blood pressure down, as well as control the pressure in his eyes which are stricken with glaucoma.

Sorenson also has taught Buster some tricks – fetch, roll over and shake hands.

He said Buster enjoys playing with the children, and slept at the door of his young daughter's bedroom after she was born. When the children argue, however, he will stand between them, not liking to hear them fight.

For years Buster's best friend was the family's cat, Spotsy, who died recently. The dog used to carry the 22-pound Spotsy around from room to room, Sorenson said.

The Sorenson family – Chris and wife Ann; sons CJ, 18, and Luke, 9; and daughter Hally, 2 – are dog lovers. They also run Lucerne Bath and Brush pet grooming.

Chris Sorenson said he always urges people who want a pet to check out the shelter first – a good suggestion, since that's how Buster came into his life.

You can adopt a canine (or feline) hero and companion of your own by visiting the shelter at 4949 Helbush in Lakeport, telephone 263-0278; or check them out online at, where pictures of adoptable animals can be viewed.

Profiles in canine courage: Dog of Valor winners for 2007

The following dogs – some of which, like Buster, are service animals – are the other winners of the Humane Society of the United States' inaugural Dog of Valor award. The following profiles are taken from the Dog of Valor award pages, where the full profiles can be found, at

Companion Dog Group

Buffy (Owners, Will and Lagree Bartley; Oakland, Calif.)

Buffy’s guardian, Will Bartley, had just returned home from work when he was approached by an armed man who pointed a gun at his chest and demanded money. Buffy, a 7-year-old German shepherd who had just made her way out to greet Bartley, sensed danger and lunged at the gunman, who fired two shots, striking her once in the front leg. Despite her wound, Buffy pursued the gunman who eventually escaped. A month after the shooting the Bartleys were forced to euthanize Buffy due to an underlying kidney condition that was exacerbated by the shooting.

Working Dog Group

Yeager (Owner, Sharon Yunker-Deatz; Louisville, Ky.)

Yeager, a 2½ year old Labrador retriever, is trained to help his owner, Sharon Yunker-Deatz, live with multiple sclerosis. Yunker-Deatz and Yeager took a trip to the beach in Muskegon, Mich., during which Yeager helped draw rescuers to a drowning child, swimming out to help despite a strong undertow. A month later, Yeager protected Yunker-Deatz from danger; while visiting a friend whose home had just burned down, she started to walk through the rubble but Yeager blocked her from moving forward. She discovered that a hole had been burned into the floor and, had it not been for Yeager, she may have fallen through the damaged floor.

People's Choice Valor Dog of the Year

Companion Dog Group

Jack (Owners, The Pieters Family; Willow Street, Penn.)

Jack is a terrier mix who a police officer rescued from a trash dumpster. In 2004, he was adopted from the animal shelter by the Pieters family whose daughter, Maya, had been diagnosed the previous year with Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome, an extremely rare neurological condition that mainly affects the oral motor functions. Jack and Maya bonded immediately. On a fall morning in 2007, Jack awoke suddenly and rushed upstairs to Maya's room, where he began clawing and barking at the door. The girl was having her first grand mal seizure in her sleep; the family rushed her to the hospital. When she came home, Jack stayed at her side, and since then he seems able to sense when the little girl is about to have an epileptic event, event breaking her fall once and sitting on top of her as she suffered a seizure.

Dogs of Valor Finalists

Companion Dog Group

Anna (Owner, Candace Jennings; Idaho City, Idaho)

Early Thanksgiving morning, Anna, an adopted Australian cattle dog, barked and nudged her sleeping owner as flames quickly began to sweep through their Idaho City, Idaho mobile home. Finally waking her, Anna, two other dogs, and their guardian, Candace Jennings, were able to safely escape the burning home. As soon as they were outside, Jennings realized that all of her work keys were still inside. With Anna by her side, she crawled back in to find them but became disoriented by the thick smoke and could not find her way out. Anna came to Jennings' rescue again by pushing and nudging her towards the door that led to safety. Both escaped with minor burns just moments before the roof collapsed. The home was a total loss.

Bear (Owner, Jeremy Rogers; Palmer, Alaska)

Bear's two owners, Christopher E. Rogers Sr. and Elann Moren, were startled awake before dawn in a frightening way: Rogers Sr.'s 28-year-old son, Christopher Erin Rogers Jr., stood over them with a machete. Even as his son hit him multiple times with the deadly blade, Rogers Sr. tried to fight back. When he finally collapsed, Rogers Jr. turned his attention to Moren, his father's fiance, and began to attack her. That's when Bear, the couple's 160-pound Mastiff mix, attacked the assailant and bit him, giving Moren a chance to escape to the bathroom where she was able to lock herself inside and call the police. His attack thwarted, Rogers Jr. fled the Palmer, Alaska house and allegedly continued his 26-hour rampage in nearby Anchorage. Sadly, Rogers Sr. died from his injuries. While Morenn suffered a dozen devastating slashes to her head, neck, and back, she survived in part because Bear, who suffered a split lip and a shattered tooth, slowed the attack and gave her a chance to escape the nightmare.

Working Dog Group

Pearl (Owner, Adrian McKee; Big Bear City, Calif.)

Pearl is a service dog who is trained to help her owner, Adrian McKee, with her mobility. The 70-pound boxer-great dane mix also alerts McKee to oncoming migraines and has developed a skill for "tasting" (licking) McKee's skin and notifying her when her potassium levels are low or are dropping. One day in their Big Bear City, California home, McKee fainted and collapsed from potassium loss and was barely conscious. Pearl used her nose to try to raise McKee's head. She also licked McKee's neck and tried to get her up again. When that failed, Pearl went to the phone, knocked the receiver off the hook and stepped on one of the large emergency buttons her owner had casually shown her. When there was no response, an ambulance and police car were dispatched to the home. When they arrived, Pearl opened the door as she had been trained, grabbed a ball in her mouth and ran to the gate. Because Pearl's appearance had frightened paramedics and police in the past, McKee trained Pearl to carry a ball in her mouth in an effort to ensure visitors that she was friendly. Paramedics followed Pearl back into the home to McKee and took her to the emergency room where she was treated for dangerously low potassium levels. Thanks to Pearl's quick thinking, help for her guardian came just in the nick of time.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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