Animal Planet Hero Awards Gone to the Dogs...and the Cats!

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We had high hopes for two horse-related animal heroes who were nominated for the Animal Planet top awards for 2008, but the awards went instead to two very deserving dog and cat volunteers.

Here's the official press release from Animal Planet's publicity office:

Animal Planet and the makers of Fresh Step(R) litter announce Eileen McCaughern, of Bethany, Conn., as HERO OF THE YEAR in the third annual campaign recognizing people who have demonstrated extraordinary service for the welfare of animals.

Additionally, Jacci Moss from Defiance, Ohio has been named the CAT HERO OF THE YEAR.

"Animal Planet is proud to partner with Fresh Step litter to recognize the lives and work of Eileen McCaughern and Jacci Moss," says Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager, Animal Planet Media. "They are both true animal heroes who have vastly improved the lives of countless dogs and cats through their selfless and compassionate devotion."

Founder of Retired Greyhounds as Pets (REGAP) of Connecticut, Inc. and the country's first matching funds greyhound retirement home, Eileen, HERO OF THE YEAR, has dedicated the past 35 years to rescuing more than 5,000 of these beloved long-legged canines. REGAP is a non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about the joys of having greyhounds as companion animals and finding responsible, caring homes for as many retired racing greyhounds as possible. Eileen's dedication to greyhounds is obvious as she works a full-time job and two part-time jobs in order to defray the costs associated with rescuing greyhounds. Also, she recently opened a kennel with funding secured from state grants, local businesses, generous individuals and the American Greyhound Council.

"Greyhounds are so special and so deserving of enjoying their retirement as pets in wonderful homes after their racing careers have ended," says Eileen. "This honor will bring even more visibility to retired greyhounds, helping them find adoptive homes. Being Animal Planet's 2008 Hero of the Year is truly an incredible honor, and I am so proud it has been bestowed on me and the greyhounds."

As director of both Friends of Felines rescue center and Earth Angels low-cost spay/neuter clinic, CAT HERO OF THE YEAR Jacci works 18 hours a day caring for rescued cats and overseeing clinic operations. Her goals for the two organizations -- which are both located on her property -- are to place cats in permanent, loving, indoor homes and to reduce homelessness, abuse and euthanasia due to animal overpopulation.

Under Jacci's leadership, Friends of Felines (a non-profit, cage-free, no-kill facility) has found homes for more than 2,000 cats, and Earth Angels has spayed or neutered more than 7,500 cats and dogs. In addition to running these two organizations, she also fosters abused, ill or injured dogs and is actively involved in educating the public about pet overpopulation, animal adoption and proper pet care.

"I'm fortunate to be doing something for which I have a deep passion," says Jacci. "My volunteers and I give our whole hearts to these animals because we believe in what we're doing. I feel privileged to have been chosen for this award, which will be devoted entirely to promoting spays and neuters."

As HERO OF THE YEAR, Eileen will receive a $10,000 donation to her charity, REGAP of Connecticut, and a trip for two to her choice destination that supports an animal welfare cause.

The makers of Fresh Step(R) litter will reward Jacci, CAT HERO OF THE YEAR, with a $5,000 donation to her organization Earth Angels spay/neuter clinic.

This year's HERO OF THE YEAR and CAT HERO OF THE YEAR are being announced in conjunction with Animal Planet's HEROES WEEK, which begins Monday, December 8, with heroes programming airing each night from 10 to 11 PM (ET/PT).

Nominations for HERO OF THE YEAR and CAT HERO OF THE YEAR were accepted online at from March 31 through July 19, 2008, and Animal Planet received over 8,200 unique applications. Finalists were announced in August, then the public was invited to vote online for their favorite finalists during People's Choice Voting, which took place between September 29 and October 13, 2008.