BELLINGHAM - Tucked humbly away in a retirement community off of Chuckanut Drive, there lives a celebrity in the making. She has four legs, a tail, and a distaste for bugs. You can call her Lola.
She is this year's finalist in the hearing dog category of the American Humane Association's third annual Hero Dog Awards. Lola, a service dog, is one of eight finalists in the awards, each one representing a different type of service dog.
As finalists in their categories, they've each already won $1,500 for the charity partner who nominated them. More than 140 dogs were nominated this year.
Lola and her owner, Charlene MacKenzie, will travel to Los Angeles in October for an awards gala hosted by Betty White to find out if they've won the top prize: $5,000 to their charity partner, Dogs for the Deaf.
A film crew from Hollywood-based MRB Productions followed MacKenzie and her faithful companion around Bellingham on Aug. 26 and 27 as they interacted with people and showed off some of the ways that Lola helps out with daily life. As the crew traveled to Skylark's Hidden Café, Boulevard Park and other locations, it became apparent just how popular Lola already is.
"I think Fairhaven owns Lola to some degree," MacKenzie said. "They see Lola, and then they see I'm with her, not the other way around."
MacKenzie received Lola six years ago from Dogs for the Deaf, an organization that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them as service animals. The organization first found Lola, a border terrier, at a shelter in Redding, Calif.
"When she was found, her collar was embedded in her neck," MacKenzie said. "She was dirty and lost, but the people at the shelter thought that under all that trouble she'd been through, there was a promising little puppy."
Lola is now a certified service dog, meaning she can travel anywhere MacKenzie can. She has been on planes, trains and, of course, around Bellingham's stores and shops.
"If I'm in the airport, I'm one of a 'zillion' people," MacKenzie said. "I can tell them I'm deaf and I need someone to let me know when the flight is boarding, but they can find me so much easier with Lola by my side."
Lola is the second dog MacKenzie has received from Dogs for the Deaf. Her first dog, Haley, served her for eight years before dying of cancer. She lived for a year without a service dog before Lola came along.
"When Haley died, it really pulled the rug out from under me," MacKenzie said. "I thought I was so much more independent, but throughout that grieving process I was freaking out from that loss of interdependency."
MacKenzie lost her hearing 57 years ago when, at the age of 20, a doctor gave her a medication that accidentally destroyed her ability to hear. In one ear she uses a hearing aid; in the other, she has a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device that can help people with severe to profound hearing loss.
Although she can somewhat hear, and she reads lips and can speak with people, MacKenzie uses Lola's help for a score of household hearing tasks, from listening for an oven timer's buzz to alerting her when someone is knocking at the door.
Lola also serves as a friendly faced reminder to those outside that MacKenzie can't hear if there is an emergency.
"Hearing loss is invisible, so she's a reminder to other people that I need to see them if they want to tell me something," MacKenzie said.
The winner of the Hero Dog Awards will be picked partly by popular vote and partly by judges, said Dee Farmand, the on-site director for MRB's shoot.
The public can vote once a day through Sept. 26 for their favorite hero dog at herodogawards.org/vote.
"The awards highlight the unique bond between humans and animals," Farmand said. "These dogs are ambassadors."
The gala will be held October 5, the sixth anniversary of Lola's arrival in MacKenzie's life.
"Whatever happens at the gala, we can't lose," she said, "because we already won."
The awards show will air on the Hallmark Channel on Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. Pacific Time.
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.