Rick Vierkandt/Bark Gallery
An ice-skating dog from Las Vegas is among this year's recipients of the American Kennel Club's Award for Canine Excellence (ACE).
Benny, an 8-year-old Labrador retriever owned by Cheryl DelSangro, was named the American Kennel Club's 2021 Exemplary Companion for his work with the NHL's Las Vegas Golden Knights and various local charities.
Benny gained popularity through his appearances at Golden Knights hockey games at the T-Mobile Arena, where he dazzles crowds on his pair of custom skates.
The idea began in August 2018 with photographer Rick Vierkandt, who asked DelSangro if her dog would partake in a cheer video for the Golden Knights, per the American Kennel Club (AKC). In the clip, Benny holds a hockey stick in his mouth and prances around the ice while chasing pucks.
After watching the video, a lightbulb went off in DelSangro's head. "I started to think I could teach him to skate. I taught our daughter when she was 17 months old, and I figured Benny had better balance than a toddler," the retired ice skater told the AKC.
For more on Benny and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.
In no time, Benny found his footing on the ice. DelSangro told the AKC that no one expected the Labrador to learn to skate on his first try, let alone love the activity.
After the stunning discovery, DelSangro designed Benny a set of special skates, which a friend of hers helped sculpt, using an altered dog boot at the top of the shoe.
RELATED: Missing Dog Saves Virginia Family from House Fire Before Reuniting with Owners
Since his first time on skates, Benny has made impressive progress. The pup showed off his various skills in clips posted to YouTube by Bark Gallery in January, including his effortless transition out of a lying-down position, turning corners, and stopping on his own.
"He no longer goes front to back with his skates but pushes out to the sides," DelSangro explained to the AKC. "Also, he has taught himself to stop, with a reverse snowplow move. He has also learned to skate in reverse a short distance. To a major degree, he is self-taught."
When he isn't skating for the Golden Knights, Benny is skating for charity with Spectrum On Ice, an ice-skating program for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
"He's like a magnet for the kids, and creates an instant comfort zone," DelSangro told the AKC. "As one mom told me with tears in her eyes, her son had never touched an animal but petted Benny on the ice, and with a smile on his face, followed him around. That put everything in perspective for me."
Benny also visits Opportunity Village, where he performs special tricks during visits with individuals with various disabilities, AKC reports. DelSangro said the canine interacts with individuals one-on-one and has "an incredible awareness" of when to be excited and when to be gentle.
"He especially relates to children who may have to skate or learn differently, like he does," she explained. "They know he doesn't judge or care how they skate, just that he sees how excited and happy they are when he is with them."
This year, four other dogs received ACE awards out of nearly 1,000 applicants, per the AKC. Each recipient receives $1,000 for a pet-related charity of their choice, a one-year supply of Eukanuba dog food, and an engraved silver medallion.