Fred Brown knows that his life wouldn’t be the same without his golden retriever, Sassy. He might not even be alive if it weren’t for her.

“A dog is a hero to someone with a disability,” Brown said.

Late at night last November, Brown, who is partially paralyzed on the left side of his body, fell in his home and hit the back of his head on the edge of a barstool in his kitchen.

His service dog, Sassy, heard his fall and came running from the bedroom, and when she knew something was wrong, she ran back to the bedroom to alert Brown’s wife, Betsy.

“Bam! She pounced on me,” Betsy Brown said. “She came running in the bedroom and just pounced on me, and I knew something was wrong.”

Betsy Brown called 911 immediately, and Sassy sat right next to Fred’s head until the paramedics arrived. At the hospital, the doctors told them Fred’s fall had caused bleeding on his brain stem and if he hadn’t gotten to the hospital when he did, he could have died.

Sassy has been nominated for the American Humane Association 2012 Hero Dog Awards for her service to Brown. At last count, the Browns said she is at number 7 in her category.

The contest has eight different categories and each winner in each category wins $5,000 for the charity of their choice. If they win, Sassy and the Browns' winnings would go to Happy Tails Service Dogs, the non-profit organization where they did their own training.

The Browns have had Sassy since she was 7 weeks old, when Fred brought her home as a birthday present for Betsy in September 2005.

Later, when someone suggested he consider getting a service dog to help him in his everyday life, Fred Brown thought it made more sense to train Sassy to do the work than spend the money on an already-trained dog, which can be up to $20,000.

“The bond is amazing,” Brown said.

He and Sassy had some ups and downs through their 13 months of training at Happy Tails, but pet and owner are much closer now.

“Most of the day is spent home,” Brown said. “We go to the mall sometimes, and Sassy is with me. Anytime I need her, she knows. I don’t have to tell her to do it, she does it automatically.”

Sassy can help Brown by taking bottles to the trash for him, picking up things he has dropped or helping him up if he has fallen.

“In those ways she just makes life a lot easier,” Brown said.

Brown, a former New York Police Department detective and bodyguard, said when he became disabled, he had to tell himself that there were people in the world worse off than he was and through his connections with Happy Tails and other charity organizations, Brown said he has encountered many people whose life stories amaze him.

“You meet some great people,” he said.

Brown and Sassy also speak around the state and country for service dog awareness.

The Hero Dog Awards are based solely on voting, which continues online through Saturday. People can vote for Sassy once a day at  

“It changed your whole life. Your dog is devoted to you,” Brown said. “She doesn’t see you as a disabled person.”

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