The Alabama Animal Hall of Fame (AAHOF) was established in Montgomery, Montgomery County, in 2003 in conjunction with the founding of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Foundation (ALVMF). The mission of the foundation is to enhance the wellbeing of animals and the human-animal bond. As part of this mission, the ALVMF decided to create a “hall of fame” to recognize and honor animals that have shown extraordinary abilities or remarkable loyalty to their owners. The awards were announced each year from 2003 until their dissolution in 2011. ALVMF is a 501(c)(3) organization funded by donations.
Champ Induction into the AAHOF was for companion or working animals from within the state of Alabama that demonstrated extraordinary loyalty, courage, service, or intuitive abilities in their relations with humans. Successful nominees demonstrated exceptional ability when compared with similar animals in similar conditions. Documentation attesting to those abilities was necessary, including but not limited to written testimony, media coverage of any type, eyewitness accounts, or documentation from a sponsoring organization. Reasons for nomination varied from single events demonstrating extreme courage or for lifetime achievement. Nominations to the hall were made by a veterinarian, a client through a veterinarian, the local humane society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or another animal care agency in Alabama, or by one of 15 local constituent veterinary associations across Alabama that are organized under the Alabama VMA.
Miss Baker Nominees were included in a pool for three consecutive years. The AAHOF Committee voted on all nominees each year until they were either voted into the hall or are dropped from consideration after three years. An animal that did not receive enough votes for induction in the three-year period could not be nominated again. Inductees were not limited to dogs and cats; other animals inducted include a chicken, two horses, a squirrel monkey, and a golden eagle. All inductees have amazing stories with honorable accomplishments. For example, 2005 nominee Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, was inducted for her historic May 28, 1959, flight into space aboard the Jupiter rocket with a rhesus monkey, Miss Able, the first mission for NASA in which mammals returned alive following a flight in space. Tiger, a golden eagle, was also inducted in 2005. She flew over Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn before football games from 2000 to 2006 and in the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gucci Gucci the dog, inducted in 2006, suffered terrible abuse as a puppy and wasn’t expected to live. But the resilient dog survived to star in public service announcements in newspapers, magazines, radio, and local and national television networks and is credited with helping bring about stricter animal cruelty laws. In May 2000, six years after Gucci’s story became public, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill making intentional cruelty to domesticated animals a Class C felony, punishable with a prison term of up to 10 years. A poodle named Champ was inducted in 2009 for detecting cancer in his owner twice, first in her breast and later on her cheek.
Matilda the Chicken Matilda the Chicken also was inducted in 2006. She earned the title “World’s Oldest Living Chicken” for reaching the age of 15 or 16. Matilda belonged to magicians Keith and Donna Barton of Bessemer, Jefferson County, and appeared in their magic show for more than a decade. She and the Bartons appeared on The Tonight Show, and Matilda received the Olivia Bearden Award from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society for her service as a goodwill ambassador in the Birmingham area.
Induction ceremonies, which were typically held each spring, took place at venues in Huntsville, Montgomery, and Birmingham. In addition to celebrating the inductees, ceremonies included inspiring key-note speakers such as 2006 speaker Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle, who guided him from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One to safety during the 9/11 terrorist attack.