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AKC Humane Fund ACE Award Winner – Therapy Dog: Axel – John Hunt

John Hunt with Therapy Dog known as "Axel"


Interview with John Hunt


How did you get Axel started toward becoming a Crisis Response Certified Canine?

John Hunt: I work very closely with carefully selected breeders to choose a puppy that meets my criteria for a Crisis Response Canine. Axel was selected based upon his temperament and his propensity for obedience.

I have developed a specific training regimen for my canines. This involves consistency and repetition. I begin training at eight weeks. Training includes Obedience, Tactile Distraction, Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), and Agility.

I saw Axel’s potential to become a Therapy Dog at six months. His intelligence, obedience, gentleness, friendliness, calmness, and adaptability were seen as he interacted within both the family and the community.

Axel’s Certification path includes:
  • AKC Conformation Champion
  • Alliance of Therapy Dogs
  • AKC Companion Dog (CD)
  • AKC Canine Good Citizen
  • AKC Canine Good Citizen Advanced
  • Canine Good Citizen Urban
  • Crisis Working Dog Certification
  • Law Enforcement Defensive Systems Working Dog Certification

John Hunt


Are there reasons why a Rottweiler is particularly useful for this emotionally demanding work?

John Hunt: Deployments can be exhausting for canines as they involve travel (automobile, plane, train, ferry) and long working days in challenging environments. Rottweilers are an extremely intelligent, intuitive Working breed. As such, they are physically fit and eager to have a job to perform. They are tireless and have the stamina to handle the large number of interactions required during comfort visits or deployments.

In the past several years, through Comfort Visits and Crisis Response deployments, Axel has interacted with thousands of people. He is able to do this due to careful training and attention to his needs during deployments. I pay careful attention to my canines and monitor them before, during, and after deployments.

Axel has interacted with thousands of people. He is able to do this due to careful training and attention to his needs during deployments. I pay careful attention to my canines and monitor them before, during, and after deployments.


What are some of the misconceptions about Axel’s breed? How has he challenged these misconceptions?

John Hunt: Because of their size, some common misconceptions about Rottweilers include: they are aggressive, difficult to train, and do not get along with other dogs. Much of the misconception comes from the owners and handlers not properly training, socializing or handling their canines.

Axel is an excellent ambassador for the breed, as he has a fantastic temperament, is well trained, and has an exceptional disposition. He has all the traits of an ideal Crisis Response Canine: adaptable, not afraid of strangers, not bothered by crowds, outgoing but calm, trained and socialized, unbothered by loud noises, and unbothered by people in distress. Axel is all of these.

Axel is a four-year-old 120 lb. gentle black bear. His appearance, carriage, and demeanor provide a sense of security to those in his presence. This is a significant asset in the aftermath of a critical incident.


Is there a specific moment that encapsulates your working relationship with Axel?

John Hunt: Axel joined me for the deployment to Uvalde, Texas, following the Robb Elementary School massacre. We entered an environment of a community devastated by this tragedy. Among the requests for interactions with the Crisis Response Canines, we were specifically tasked with interacting with some of the children who survived from the classrooms. We were asked to attend a church service and interact with the children in the congregation. There was one boy who had been non-communicative since the event. As the children moved to their Sunday School room, I asked the boy to bring Axel in and he soon began petting and softly speaking to Axel. He then began to interact with me, asking what other commands he could give Axel.

Another interaction in that church occurred when Axel and I were standing in the back of the church. Shortly after the services began, a woman and her daughter entered and sat in the last row. Very untypically, Axel began to pull at the leash to get closer and sit alongside the woman. She began to pet him and tears began to flow down her cheeks. Axel remained at her side for the duration of the service.

Later, the woman shared that she had been near the school that day and witnessed the assailant crash his truck, which was the beginning of the rampage, resulting in the school being evacuated. She comforted those who had been inside during the massacre, and thanked us for the “blessing of Axel’s presence” during her period of deep grief.

Axel’s benevolent presence allowed those children and others in the Uvalde community to have compassionate, peaceful moments. As they talked to and petted Axel, they shared their traumatic stories. Axel was quickly adopted into the Uvalde community, grateful for his serene presence.


How has your partnership with Axel impacted your life on the job and at home?

John Hunt: Axel is a constant reminder of the commitment we have made to spend time meaningfully in the service of others. One of my greatest sources of happiness is the time that I spend training and interacting with Axel. There is a great sense of accomplishment to see how he has progressed.

Based on the Work We Do, Recognitions Include:
  • 2022 AKC ACE Award
  • AKC Conformation Champion
  • AKC’s Therapy Dog Supreme
  • Colonial Rottweiler Club–Top Volunteer Rottweiler
  • American Rottweiler Club–Top Volunteer Rottweiler
  • U.S. Congressional Recognition
  • New Jersey Jefferson Award
  • New Jersey Emergency Medicine Services Community Service Award
Comfort Visits Include:
  • Hospitals–Jefferson (NJ), Jefferson (PA), Cooper University Health System, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, St. Joseph’s, Nazareth Hospital
  • Crisis Response Teams–Crisis Response Canines, MERCURY Critical Incident Response Team, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team
  • Police Departments–NJ State Police, Gloucester Township and many others through MERCURY
  • MERCURY is dedicated to providing support to First Responder after traumatic event. We are blessed to work with a myriad of Fire, Police, EMS, and Dispatchers.
  • Emergency Management–State Emergency Management Program Stakeholders (SEMPS), Camden County Department of Public Safety
  • Military Organizations–Military’s Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Wounded Warriors
  • Schools–Reeds Road School, Stockton University, Rowan University
  • Churches–Camden Diocese
  • Community Organizations–Rotary, RYLA, Maressa Center for MS Wellness, American Red Cross
Notable Deployments/Visits Include:
  • November 2022–New York, New York–9/11 Memorial Museum–Salute to Service honoring Military–Active and Veterans, First Responders
  • September 2022–Blackwood, New Jersey–Camden Diocese Blue Mass
  • September 2022–New York, New York–9/11 Memorial Museum–
  • Anniversary of 9/11–Requested to be in the Museum and Meet with Families, Loved Ones, Survivors, and First Responders
  • May 2022–Uvalde, Texas, Robb Elementary School
  • May 2022–Pittsgrove, New Jersey–A.P. Shalik High School–Post-Tragic Accident Death of Two Students
  • March 2022–New York, New York–Museum of Modern Art Stabbing Incident
  • March 2022–Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–Funeral Services Line of Duty Death–Two Pennsylvania State Troopers
  • February 2022–Bridgewater, Virginia–Bridgewater College–Active Shooter Event with Two Police Officers Killed
  • January 2022–Baltimore, Maryland, Line of Duty Death, Three Firefighters
  • October 2021–Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–Active Shooter Event with Staff Member Killed on Nursing Unit
  • July 2021–Surfside, Florida–Condominium Collapse
  • 2020–Hospital Rounding on Staff/Patients COVID Epidemic