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Therapy Dog Provides Healing as Howling Hero

Picture of Sampson, a black and white sheepadoodle, in a dog-sized tuxedo shirt.

Amy Yee will never forget receiving the call that her sheepadoodle, Sampson El Calafate, had won the 2023 LAFD Howling Heroes contest.

For the last four years, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Foundation has hosted Howling Heroes, an open call to the public to find the next official LAFD mascot and raise much-needed funds for the LAFD’s canine programs and others that help firefighters create more resilient communities.

When Amy heard about the contest through her husband Mark's friend, a philanthropist and longtime supporter of the LAFD Foundation, she knew she had to participate.

The Yee’s Howling Heroes journey started in 2021, the first year of the contest. They entered their dog Java, and although they did not win, they enjoyed the process so much that they decided to enter their newest pup, Sampson, for the 2022 contest. Sampson was a runner-up to 2022 winner Big Rig, and finally brought home the winning ribbon and a basketful of goodies in 2023.

“It changed our lives completely,” Amy said, reflecting on life before and after Sampson’s Howling Heroes win. 

Amy nor Sampson could have imagined the number of events that they would be involved in because of Howling Heroes. As the official LAFD mascot, Sampson rode in the Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown alongside LAFD firefighters. He attended the LAFD Foundation’s annual Valor Awards at Dodger Stadium, where he was introduced from the stage and projected onto the jumbotrons. “To be among the people that step out for us every single day…it felt very humbling to be there,” she said of attending the event with Sampson.

They’ve attended many carnivals and festivals and are usually invited by the community through word of mouth to come out as the LAFD mascot.

“It’s great to meet and see the various people in our community,” Amy said of taking Sampson around to represent the LAFD. While Sampson loves all the events and crowds, his favorite place to be is at local LAFD fire stations with his favorite firefighters. Over Halloween, Sampson helped pass out candy at a station. Amy and Mark's son Michael and his special needs class went with Sampson to Fire Station 62 over the summer and spent the day with the firefighters there.

Visiting local stations became a weekly event after the contest. The family has gone as far north as Sunland and as far south as San Pedro, hoping to eventually visit every LAFD fire station in the City.

Sampson’s presence is invaluable in many aspects, whether supporting Michael’s comfortability in social settings or helping firefighters understand more about interacting with neuro-diverse individuals.  

“It’s hard to believe that this little guy has done so much to help other people,” Amy reflected. “I can’t imagine life without him,” Amy said of Sampson. “He’s a part of all aspects of our lives.”

Prospective Howling Heroes may feel that they have big paws to fill. But Amy emphasized that no Howling Heroes journey is the same, and it’s all in what you make it.

“Just enjoy it!” she said of the process. “You’ll be surprised at what you get offered to participate in.”

The search for the 2024 Howling Hero starts on Wednesday, April 10th. All are welcome to participate, and entering is easy and free. Simply visit when the contest launches and upload a photo of your dog with a brief description of what makes them a hero. Friends, family, and members of the community can vote an unlimited number of times for their favorite pets, and $1 equals one vote.

A panel of judges will evaluate the top 10 contestants and select the Howling Hero of 2024.

Dogs have several important roles across the Department, from the Canine Therapy Program to the Arson Counter-Terrorism Section and Urban Search and Rescue teams. All proceeds from Howling Heroes will benefit these canine programs and others that help our firefighters create more resilient communities.