Braylee Hess, 8, of Windsor Township, reads a book to Benny at the Kaltreider-Benfer Library in Red Lion on Thursday. Benny recently was honored with an
Braylee Hess, 8, of Windsor Township, reads a book to Benny at the Kaltreider-Benfer Library in Red Lion on Thursday. Benny recently was honored with an American Kennel Club Human Fund Award for Canine Excellence. (Debbie Flaum)

Benny, a 9-year-old Rottweiler, still walks with a limp, a daily reminder of the cancer he beat when he was 5 years old.

The Wrightsville dog provides therapy dog services and was recently the first Rottweiler to be honored with the American Kennel Club Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence.

"It is an honor to represent our breed in such a positive light," said Kelly Skiptunas, Benny's owner.

The 13th annual awards honor five loyal, hard-working dogs that have made significant contributions to their communities in each of the following five categories: Exemplary Companion Dog, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Service, and Therapy.

Each of the ACE recipients will receive $1,000 and an engraved sterling silver medallion at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando on Dec. 15.

His work: Benny is an AKC registered therapy dog. He and Skiptunas make regular therapy visits to Memorial Hospital and Lutheran Social Services' Kelly Manor assisted living facility and also the Sprenkle Drive Rehabilitation facility.

He is also READ certified -- Reading Education Assistance Dogs -- and goes to Kaltreider-Benfer library in Red Lion and the Columbia Public Library, where students read books to him.

"Benny adores children and is very careful around them, so he was the ideal dog to train for this type of therapy work," said Skiptunas, 48, of Lower Windsor Township.


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"Kids who have problems reading out loud are often ridiculed in school by their classmates, so research has found that we can improve their reading level by having them read to dogs," Skiptunas said. "The dogs never laugh at them and are always calm and happy and non-threatening."

Benny has completed more than 250 hours of therapy dog service since becoming certified five years ago while he went through treatment for osteosarcoma.

Benny earned his AKC and Canadian Kennel Club Championships and has been honored twice by the American Rottweiler Club, the breed's AKC parent club. He also has appeared on public television as a goodwill ambassador for his breed.

Skiptunas got Benny in Ontario when he was 9 weeks old, and said he has always preferred the company of humans to that of other dogs, something she believes makes him such an excellent therapy dog.

"He accompanied me to hospice when my dad was a patient there," Skiptunas said. "He was a huge comfort to me and to many other patients and their families. He was also permitted to attend my father's funeral, which was the first time a dog was permitted in the sanctuary of our church."

-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or cshank@yorkdispatch.com