Meet Penny! The one-eyed golden retriever from Sliver Spring, Maryland, triumphed over more than 10,000 other adorable dogs to win PEOPLE’s World’s Cutest Rescue Dog Contest Presented by Pedigree.
Penny’s prize includes a one-year supply of dog food from Pedigree, a $1,000 donation to Kyra’s Rescue in Washington D.C. — the organization that saved Penny — and an appearance on the Today show.
The 4-year-old pup earned the “Cutest” crown after making it through the voting and judging phases, which included a panel made up of Olivia Munn, LeAnn Rimes and representatives from PEOPLE and Pedigree.
“All of these beautiful animals and their owners deserve the utmost respect. They are champions of love who have overcome so much and still have so much love to give,” Rimes and Munn, who is also the creative strategist a Wag!, said in a joint statement on judging PEOPLE’s first World’s Cutest Rescue Dog Contest.
While Penny and her family are happy to win the prizes, they are most excited about getting the opportunity to talk about the joys of animal rescue on a national stage.
“I have found it enormously rewarding to have a rescue dog” says Anne Noel Occhialino, who contacted Kyra’s Rescue because her family wanted a rescue golden retriever, a breed which the nonprofit is known to save. Kyra’s, started in 2015, pulls dogs from the streets and shelters of Turkey and flies them to forever homes in the United States.
“I am in awe of Kyra’s Rescue and all the rescues who put in the work to bring us these animals,” says Occhialino, a civil rights lawyer, who picked up Penny with her family on Feb. 25, 2017, her 45th birthday.
“She was the best birthday present I have ever received.”
“She has made our family closer and happier,” Occhialino adds, crediting Penny with teaching her daughters Kate Gannon, 12, and Nora Gannon, 10, about the importance of empathy and compassion.
Before arriving in Sliver Spring, Penny was living as a stray on the streets of Turkey, where she had her eye cruelly poked out with a rod.
“That’s what is so amazing about Penny. She is such a resilient dog,” Occhialino says. “She had this terrible thing happen to her, but she is still joyful.”
Penny has plenty to be content about now. The rescue dog spent her summer on the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Montauk, New York, capping off the summer season with a 4th birthday bash. The pooch party included all of her neighborhood canine friends and doggie ice-cream treats.
“It gives me a lot of joy to see Penny so happy,” Occhialino says.
To lean more about the World’s Cutest Rescue Dog Contest winner and her loving family, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.