At 9 years old, Gabe, a yellow Labrador, looks like any older dog, with white fur peppering his strong golden face.

He's affectionate to anyone he meets, and enjoys the little things in life, like treats; spending time with his owner, Sgt. 1st Class Charles "Chuck" Shuck; and lying in the sunshine at their home in Columbia, S.C.

Looking at him, you would never guess he was anything besides a happy, loved pet. But his eyes tell a tale –a tale of purpose and patriotism.

Gabe's story began on the streets of Houston, Texas.

He was a wanderer, with no family to love and care for him. Eventually, he was taken to a pound in Harris County, where he lived as a shelter dog.

But his story doesn't end there.

The United States Army wants you!

In 2005, Gabe was rescued from the pound by the military and taken to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he began his training as a bomb-sniffing dog.

Gabe and Shuck, a Lansford native and Panther Valley graduate serving in the Army, met in 2006 to begin training for deployment to Iraq.

Seventeen days after graduating Specialized Search Dog School, Gabe and his new handler were deployed.

During the next few years, the pair traversed Iraq, completing over 210 combat missions and finding 26 explosives and weapons, before returning to American soil.

According to Gabe's website, which Shuck created and updates, Gabe (Shuck) states, "I was fortunate enough to work with some truly amazing soldiers."

By the time he left Iraq, Gabe had three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement medal and 40 coins of excellence.

"Gabe from 2006 to 2007 was the most successful specialized search dog in Iraq," Shuck explained, "and in May of 2008, was awarded the American Kennel Club Heroic Military Working Dog Award, (a national honor that includes animals serving in the armed forces)."

After completing their assignments Shuck and Gabe parted ways briefly. Gabe went back to Lackland Air Force Base, while Shuck went on his next assignment.

But the pair would reunite shortly.

"Gabe returned to Lackland to be paired with another handler, but he would not work for him," Shuck recalled. "We were separated for 41 days and then he was retired to me."

After three years of dedicated service to this country, the Army decided to let Gabe retire. At the time of his retirement in 2009, Gabe's rank was Sgt. 1st Class, bomb sniffing.

Shuck adopted Gabe and they have been inseparable ever since.

Life after war

"Gabe and I have visited wounded troops in combat hospitals," Shuck said of Gabe's new life, "and we love to educate kids in schools on the importance of staying in school, respect and working hard. We plan to visit the Panther Valley schools sometime in the future."

Gabe has taken to being a house dog, chasing squirrels in the yard and enjoying his retirement; while Shuck, who is currently a senior drill sergeant leader at the United States Army Drill Sergeant School in Fort Jackson, S.C., has continued in his pursuit to show his furry best friend how much he loves and admires him.

According to Gabe's website, Gabe (Shuck) states, "My dad says that I've had such an impact not only on his life, but American Soldiers in general. He calls me a hero dog."

Because of this love and dedication, Gabe was named the runner up in the 2011 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards and is currently the one of the front-runners in the military dog category of the 2012 Hero Dog Awards.

He needs your help

Voting for the 2012 Hero Dog Awards is open until June 30. It features hundreds of canines in eight categories Search and Rescue, Therapy, Service, Law Enforcement, Hearing, Emerging Hero, Military and Guide dogs who have all done outstanding things to enrich humans' lives.

According to the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards website, the awards "were created in 2010 to celebrate powerful relationships between dogs and people."

"Gabe and I are excited about this contest because it gives us a chance to shed the spotlight on pound puppies and the importance of them not being put to death," Shuck said. "They can do great things in this world if given a chance."

He added that another reason for this contest is to help win money for the United States War Dogs Association, which helps send care packages to deployed K9 handlers and help find retired military working dogs homes.

"It's very important to us for them to get this money for the charity," Shuck noted. "If we win our category, they get $5,000 and if we can win the overall title, they get an additional $10,000."

Those 18 and older can vote for Gabe once a day by logging onto his nomination at http://www.herodogawards.org/vote/?nominee=91765156 [1].

"We are very proud to represent the United States Army, the Military Police Corps, the U.S. War Dogs Association and Panther Valley," Shuck said of the national nomination.

Once voting closes, eight finalists will be selected and a second voting round will be opened on July 3, for people to vote for the "2012 American Hero Dog."

The winner will be announced on Oct. 6, during a televised ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

You may also follow Gabe's quest on Facebook by liking his page "Vote Gabe 2012 Hero Dog."