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Fort Jackson's hero dog dies of cancer

Gabe, a weapons sniffing dog at Fort Jackson and the 2012 American Humane Association's Hero Dog of the Year, died Wednesday in Columbia -- just four months after winning the title.

Sgt. 1st Class Charles "Chuck" Shuck said the 10-year-old lab mix died of hemangiosarcoma, which is cancer of the liver and spleen in dogs.

"He didn't eat his food (Tuesday)," Shuck told The State. "That was the first sign."

Shuck said he took Gabe to a Spring Valley veterinary clinic, then to a specialist in the Harbison area. But the cancer had spread too far. Gabe was put down at 12:44 p.m. Wednesday.

"He's pain-free now," said Shuck, a Pennsylvania native and military policeman who did three tours of duty in Iraq.

No arrangements for a memorial service have been made.

"I can't think about that right now," said Shuck, a senior drill sergeant leader at Fort Jackson's Drill Sergeant School. "I don't think I could get through it. I'm going to have him cremated and he gets buried with me when I die."

Gabe -- possibly the only dog in America with more than 35,000 Facebook friends -- won the honor from the American Humane Association at a star-studded gala in Beverly Hills in October. Gabe represented the military against dogs in seven other categories, from police dogs to guide dogs.

The grand prize brought Gabe's winnings to $15,000. As the military category champ, Gabe already had won $5,000 for the nonprofit United States War Dog Association, which gives out care packages to dogs and handlers fighting in Afghanistan. There, dogs serve as trackers, find roadside bombs, locate weapons hidden in buildings and work highway check points, among other duties.

The care packages can contain goggles and boots for the dogs; ear muffs to protect their ears from loud sounds during helicopter flights, ear wash, eyewash, cooling vests and toys, said Ron Aiello, president of the New Jersey-based association.

"He represented the best of what man's best friend means," American Humane Association chief executive Robin Ganzert told The State Wednesday. "He exemplified the spirit of being man's best friend and demonstrating extraordinary acts of courage."

The 10-year-old lab mix was rescued as a puppy from a Houston shelter just one day before he was to be euthanized. He and Shuck deployed to Iraq in 2006 and survived 210 combat missions, including an attack in which a roadside bomb struck the vehicle they were riding in.

"I'm truly saddened by this," Aiello said Wednesday. "The two of them worked so hard together to win the hero dog award. They traveled all over the country. It seems like Gabe should have had some time to rest, but he had love and that's important."

Through their Facebook page and public appearances, Gabe and Shuck were able to win the most votes out of about 3 million cast online in the hero dog contest and won over the celebrity judges, which included Betty White and Whoopi Goldberg.

Aiello said that the publicity Gabe brought to the service of war dogs "was what was really important. It was worth a million dollars."

The association's Ganzert said Gabe will continue to reign as Hero Dog of the Year until the 2013 winner is named later this year despite his passing. A special video and tribute will be posted to the americanhumane.org website today.

"There is no runner-up," she said. "It's really important for us to continue to celebrate the spirit of what Gabe represents."

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