Michael Rueter, Capture Imaging
From left, Shanna Wilkinson, "hero dog" Holly and actress Betty White pose during 2012 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Michael Rueter/Capture Imaging)

On her 14th birthday, Shanna Wilkinson of Magna receives a Shetland Sheepdog puppy. She names the dog Holly, and plans to train the animal for agility competitions and sheepherding.

Several years pass. Shanna starts suffering seizures, a very scary proposition because the seizures can floor Shanna without warning. But even before doctors deliver the official diagnosis of epilepsy, Holly the Sheltie sheepdog somewhat miraculously develops the ability to alert Shanna roughly five minutes before an oncoming seizure hits.

Fast-forward to 2012: the inseparable pair of Holly and Shanna sits poolside at the glitzy Beverly Hills Hilton for Holly’s 12th birthday party. Several of the people in attendance also bring their dogs to the special celebration, replete with a cake the hotel chef specially crafted to be safe for both human and canine consumption.

Holly’s birthday hubbub occurred last month in conjunction with the Second Annual Hero Dog Awards, a star-studded gala that brought Holly and seven other “hero dogs” to Hollywood. Taped before a live audience on Oct. 6, the 2012 Hero Dog Awards premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Owing to her uncanny ability to sense Shanna’s seizures ahead of time, Holly was the show’s resident service dog. The event also recognized seven other categories of dogs: therapy, military, law enforcement, hearing, guide, search-and-rescue and emerging hero.

“It was really neat to be able to honor Holly, because she is an older service dog that has done so much for me,” Wilkinson said. “I enjoyed sharing with the world the amazing things that Holly has accomplished in her 12 years.”

During their “normal lives” in Utah, Shanna and Holly regularly visit schools to teach students about the importance of service dogs.

“Service dogs are life-changing friends,” Wilkinson said. “They’re always there, and they’re able to do things that a human caretaker is not able to do. They’re security; they’re a constant support in the person’s life that needs them. It’s amazing how they always know exactly what their (master) needs, and are able to accommodate that. …

“Holly is beyond smart. She knows things before I know them. It would be so interesting to be able to get inside her head, because she figures things out so quickly. It’s so interesting to watch her learn and think; she’s such an independent thinker, and she knows how to problem-solve. She knows what needs to be done, and she knows how to do it.”

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Actress Kristin Chenoweth hosted the Hero Dog Awards. The 90-minute broadcast includes musical guest Jewel and celebrity presenters Betty White, Denise Richards, Joey Lawrence, Naomi Judd, Whoopi Goldberg and Pauley Perrette — the actress best known for her turn as a forensic specialist in the CBS drama “NCIS.”

“The whole experience was memorable, something I’ll want to remember forever — but I think my favorite part was meeting Pauley Perrette,” Wilkinson confessed. “She’s one of my favorite actresses.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.