By Scott Sowers
Nothing’s better than starting a national campaign on a high note! I have the distinct pleasure of accompanying America’s first National Fire Dog Monument (NFDM) on a 2,000-mile road show from Denver, the “Mile-high City,” to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Our convoy will make stops in 12 major cities, including Chicago, Indianapolis, and New York City, and several state capitals along the way, such as Topeka, Jefferson City, Springfield, Columbus, Harrisburg, and Trenton. The goal of the tour is simple: to honor the nation’s firefighters and arson dogs who keep our communities safe, and deliver the monument to its final destination, Fire Station 3 in Washington, which protects the United States Capitol.
There are other monuments dedicated to the brave work of our firefighters, but the NFDM is the first of its kind to pay tribute to the four-legged heroes who protect us from the flames. The monument is the brainchild of Jerry Means, an arson investigator for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Jerry’s name might sound familiar to you because his partner since 2007, Sadie, won the Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category in our inaugural American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards™ last year. The new monument is modeled partly on Sadie!
After years of fundraising, Jerry commissioned Colorado sculptor Austin Weishel to begin the monument. Austin, a firefighter himself, poured his heart and soul into casting this masterpiece – nearly 1,500 man-hours in all. The final monument exhibits the powerful bond between a firefighter and his dog. This bronze cast, weighing in at over 450 pounds, produced gasps and tears among those who saw it on our first day in Denver.
We began the morning at JeffCo Stadium, adjacent to Jerry’s office at the CBI. A large crowd of coworkers, fellow firefighters, policemen, and others were there to see us off as we officially began the tour.
We were then honored with an official police motorcade to the Colorado State Capitol in downtown Denver. I can only imagine the looks we garnered as the 78-foot tractor trailer holding the monument and our RV made their way through the streets.
Following setup on the west steps of the capitol, we began the event. We had a perfect backdrop: two fire trucks raised their ladders to drape a giant American flag, which stood in the shadow of the gold dome of the capitol itself. As a special treat, two members of Governor John Hickenlooper’s office read aloud a proclamation from the governor declaring June 21, 2012 as Arson Dog Day in Colorado.
People swarmed up the truck ramp to look at the intricate detail in the statue and get a chance to meet a true hero dog.
Following our visit to the state capital, we put the Rocky Mountains in our rearview mirror and said hello to the vast prairies of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, stopping overnight in Hays, Kansas. Along the way we received a surprise phone call from the chief of the Hays Fire Department, who said he and his colleagues would love nothing more than to greet us when we made it to town. The State Fire Marshall’s Office had communicated to him that we would be spending the night in his town. When we arrived he told us how humbled he was that we were bringing the monument through his town. But truly it was our crew who was humbled by the welcome we got in this small, proud Kansas town.
We at American Humane Association are proud to stand with State Farm in sponsoring the NFDM Tour, honoring the nation’s firefighters and arson dogs. Since 1993 State Farm has provided funding for the acquisition and training of more than 300 arson dog teams in 44 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia. They are the only company in North America that provides scholarships for arson dog training. State Farm underwrites the costs to train arson dog teams it is important that law enforcement officials have every tool possible to combat this costly and deadly crime. Nearly all of the canines acquired through the State Farm Arson Dog Program are obtained through animal shelters, companion programs for the disabled, or guide dog programs. Their program gives these dogs a second chance at work and life – everyone benefits.
Please check back on Monday morning, where I’ll recap the weekend’s activities. Be sure to visit the NFDM Tour’s webpage http://www.americanhumane.org/national-firedog-mon.html and stop by and say hello if you’re in the areas we’re planning to visit. We look forward to seeing you!