This man and his best friend are showing just how powerful canine companionship can be.
Mark LeBlanc and his border collie Ace won Amazon Prime Video's dog adventure competition series, The Pack. The show, hosted by Lindsey Vonn, takes dog-and-owner duos around the world to compete in wild challenges that test the bond of each pair. For emerging as the top dogs, LeBlanc, a mechanical engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Ace won $500,000 for themselves and $250,000 to donate to the charity of their choice.
After "putting a lot of thought" into it, The Pack's champions chose to donate the funds to Best Friends Animal Society, an animal welfare organization with a sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. LeBlanc was especially moved by Best Friends' goal to make all U.S. animal shelters no-kill by 2025.
"As a society, we can do better. Right now, we are just killing animals that are in the way," LeBlanc told PEOPLE on why he gave the donation to Best Friends, adding that he has his own rescue dog named Charlie. LeBlanc's wife found Charlie as a stray on the street and the couple nursed the canine back to health. Today, Charlie is a healthy, happpy dog that likes to sleep on his parents' bed.
"I can't imagine him being euthanized because he has nowhere to go," his owner added. "It breaks my heart."
Along with helping shelter pets find loving homes, LeBlanc wants his win with Ace to inspire others to get closer to their pooches.
"I hope dog owners realize that your relationship with your dog doesn't have to be a friendship of convenience. It can be part of your lifestyle," LeBlanc said, encouraging pup parents to take their pets on trips, hikes, and more.
LeBlanc has already received an "overwhelming" number of messages and new followers to his Instagram (@markcleblanc) and Ace's (@acethetraildog), and what he finds the "most touching" are the messages that say "thank you for sharing your relationship with Ace with us."
"It's changing the way people want to have a relationship with their dogs," he said of his time on The Pack. "For me, that's really special."
Since receiving so many positive messages about his participation on The Pack, LeBlanc has started a podcast called Chasing Aces, where he interviews the figures from sports, science, art, and more that inspire him. LeBlanc is continuing to work on his outdoor/adventure photography, a passion that has taken him to many unique places and has lead to countless adorable photoshoots with Ace.
A dog who has always loved adventure – often trail running and skiing with LeBlanc – post-Pack Ace is even hungrier for new activities to try.
"He is getting whatever he wants these days," LeBlanc said of Ace's life now. It helps that Ace and LeBlanc are "more in tune" than ever before and can "read each other's body language a lot better."
"I understand what he needs a bit more," the owner shared, adding that he is using training skills he learned from The Pack to keep Ace content and mentally-stimulated.
What LeBlanc gets in return from caring for Ace and Charlie is priceless to him.
"I think doing things with your dog helps you live in the present and makes you a happier person. I know Ace and Charlie have made me a happier person," he said.
All episodes of The Pack are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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