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Michael Gonzales jokes that his daughter, Gabbie, was his and his wife’s fifth child.

She was born into a family that included dogs, Gidget and Butch, and cats, Tiffany and Tootsie.

Thanks to her parents who are animal lovers, it is no surprise that Gabbie, 13, and her brother, Mikey, 11, have followed the family tradition.

Gabbie, an honor student at Mattawoman Middle School, was recently named the 2011 Humane Hero of the Year by the Humane Society of Charles County.

The inaugural contest was created to recognize a child between ages 5 and 18 who demonstrates a sense of appreciation and responsibility for the environment and all of its inhabitants.

Sharon Rabie, a humane and environmental educator with the humane society, said she and other staff members at the shelter always are hearing stories about young people taking on projects or helping out the community in some way.

“There are some kids out there who are doing amazing things,” Rabie said. “I’m so impressed, it almost brings tears to my eyes.”

The humane society’s mission is to teach respect and kindness for all living things, she said. The organization wanted to reward kids who are “unsung heroes.”

“We wanted to let the world know that there are some really great kids out there doing selfless things,” Rabie said.

About a dozen applications came in and Rabie said it was quite difficult to select a winner.

Gabbie was named the winner while Leo Watson, 12, of Brandywine, and the Blake siblings Devin, 12, Meghan, 10, and Grayson, 5, of Waldorf were named the runners-up.

Gabbie The four pets that greeted Gabbie after her birth all have passed away, but the family still has plenty of furry friends. Now the family has three dogs, Gigi, Rascal and Smoochie (her late grandfather’s dog who the family took in), and three cats, Baby, Midnight and Soxie.

Gabbie and her brother each have a sugar glider Ichabod is Gabbie’s, Jazzy is Mikey’s. The sugar gliders, which the kids were introduced to at a pet expo, had their own ordeal. They grew ill from a toxic cage. Mikey’s sugar glider, Petey, died. Ichabod had to be nursed back to health with daily injections of saline and vitamin B.

Gabbie and her mother, Christine, have fostered kittens for the humane society raising 31 kittens. Gabbie has also fostered two litters of feral kittens, which were adopted. The family currently is fostering a litter of beagle puppies.

When she isn’t busy as a secretary of Student Government Association at Mattawoman, where she is also a member of the National Junior Honor Society, playing lacrosse or running track, Gabbie is involved in the 4-H club Gone to the Dogs and stops by the humane society to visit the animals and walk dogs.

Devin, Meghan, Grayson

The Blake kids, much like Gabbie, had no choice in the matter of whether they would be around animals. Their parents, Larry and Mel, always kept pets.

“We’ve had animals for our whole lives,” said the kids’ mom. “They love to go to the humane society. They use their allowance to donate food to the humane society.”

Meghan has talked about becoming a veterinarian since she was 3. And with her cousin now studying to be a vet, it is just fanning those flames.

The kids care for the family’s pets a 150-pound German shepherd named Rex, two cats, Buddy and Milo, and two ferrets, Chloe and Tully.

“[Animals] are fun,” Devin said. “They are good companions.”

Mel, who has worked in child care for 20 years, said she believes children raised around pets develop compassion and responsibility and even those who can’t have pets because of various restrictions can still do their part. They can volunteer at the humane society or work on projects to better habitats.

“It teaches them to care about something other than themselves,” she said.

LeoBrian Watson was mowing the lawn one day when he heard a peculiar noise.

“He heard, ‘Cheep, cheep, cheep,’” said Leo, Brian’s son.

It was a baby duck, and with no mother or other ducklings around, Brian brought the duck in and Leo took it from there.

He named the duckling Daisy and created a habitat for her. When it was time, Leo released Daisy to a pond on his uncle’s property.

Leo, who has two cats, a frog and a fish, was a member of the humane society’s Kind Club and is now a member of its Teens Who Love Animals. His brother, Tony Lloyd, 17, is also a friend of the humane society, having constructed a fence at the organization for his Eagle Scout project.

“Leo sets an example … and is a role model,” said Kent Benjamin, Assistant Scout master for Boy Scout Troop 417, of which Leo is a member. “He is a natural leader. Leo’s dedication to and love for animals is expressed in his never-ending desire to continually educate himself and others about all animals and protecting them.”

staylor@somdnews.com