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After life of abuse, a headband-wearing pit bull is named 'hero dog' of the year

When Abigail the pit bull was picked up as a stray, nobody knew if she'd survive, much less thrive and go on to win a top honor.
/ Source: TODAY

Abigail the pit bull doesn't go out in public without a fancy headband or hat, often bespoke.

When Abigail started wearing her special headgear, it was to cover up some terrible injuries that cost the dog an ear — and nearly took her life. Now, they're her signature style, and a moving symbol of optimism.

"We really hope that people look at Abigail, this pit bull, and see that she has defied the odds," adoptive mom Megan Steinke told TODAY. "She is hope."

Abigail the pit bull is the hero dog winner of 2017
Abigail's fans send her presents of headbands and hats.Bonnets for Abigail / courtesy of Bonnets for Abigail

Not only has Abigail defied the odds — but last weekend she was named the American Humane's hero dog of the year.

It was never a sure thing that Abigail would even get to live, never mind be honored in a black-tie, celebrity-studded gala held in Beverly Hills.

Picked up as a stray, Abigail came into Miami's busy city shelter last November. Photos show she was in almost unimaginably bad shape, missing all of one ear and part of the skin off her face.

Victoria Frazier, founder of the Florida-based nonprofit Love is Fur Ever Dog Rescue, saw Abigail's pictures on Facebook. Worried that Abigail would be euthanized, Frazier set out to save her.

"I needed her just as she needed us," Frazier said.

Abigail was brought to the Pets First Wellness Center for lifesaving care. She received skin grafts and extensive wound therapy. Her veterinarian, Thomas Jackson, posited that her injuries indicated she may have been involved with dogfighting.

Abigail the pit bull, hero dog winner, with sister Tala
Abigail with her new sister, TalaBonnets for Abigail / courtesy of Bonnets for Abigail

After a couple of days, Frazier noticed the frequently changed bandages on Abigail's head resembled a bonnet. Frazier went out and bought some actual headbands, "then started placing them over her bandages," she said.

Photos of the gussied-up survivor traveled around the internet, and Abigail's growing fan base began sending gifts of fancier hats. After nearly dying on the streets, Abigail now had a community.

After a few weeks in the hospital, Abigail came home with Frazier and her husband. She convalesced with the family until June, when Abigail was finally ready to go into a permanent home.

Abigail now lives in Fort Meyers, Florida, with 29-year-old Megan Steinke and her 37-year-old husband, Jason, as well as Tala, another rescue pittie.

Steinke said in bringing Abigail home, it was clear she and her husband were getting more than a pet. They knew Abigail was positioned to help change negative perceptions about pit bulls, and to help show that dogs who've been through hell deserve a second chance.

And not just that. Steinke also believes Abigail gives people hope for their own lives.

"She had to endure suffering to get to where she is today," Steinke said. "Then you see her today, and how forgiving and loving and inspiring she is."

Abigail the pit bull hero with Brock Frazier
Abigail with Victoria Frazier's husband Brock Frazier. courtesy of Bonnets for Abigail / Bonnets for Abigail

Frazier had entered Abigail into the hero dog contest back in December. The seven finalists were named in July. Folks voted online to determine the winner. Each raised money for a charity of their choice — Abigail's is Dogs on Deployment, a group that, among other things, finds temporary homes for service members' pets while they are serving.

"I think Abigail touched so many hearts because she suffered through so much, yet in every part of her life exemplifies gentleness and forgiveness," American Humane president Robin Ganzert said in an email. "So many of our hero dogs overcame great odds to do good things for others even when they themselves were in need of help."

Abigail the pit bull  with headbands
Many of Abigail's custom-made headbands are made by a company called Itsi Bitsi Essentials.courtesy of Bonnets for Abigail / Bonnets for Abigail

Abigail was announced this year's hero dog at the gala Sept. 16; the ceremony will be broadcast in a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 26.

She and the other finalists — an impressive bunch, one and all — hobnobbed with stars like Danica McKellar, Vivica Fox, Daisy Fuentes and Richard Marx. Abigail's adoptive family was there with her, including Tala. So were Frazier and her husband, Brock, and veterinarian Thomas Jackson.

"Honestly, I can't describe the feeling," said Frazier. "I'm proud and excited for her."

Abigail the pit bull American Hero dog winner
All seven of the 2017 American Hero Dog finalistsMarc Patrick / BFA / Marc Patrick / BFA

Steinke said it was exciting for Abigail, too, being up on that stage receiving her honor. She's been through so much to get there, and it seemed to Steinke that Abigail was utterly content to have arrived.

"She's just happy," Steinke said. "It was definitely a magical moment. And she knew."

Abigail, of course, wore a brand new sparkly headband made especially for the event. She looked just beautiful.

Bonnets for Abigail the pit bull
Abigail with her hero dog awardCourtesy of Bonnets for Abigail