The light afternoon rain paused for a moment and the sun shone from the clouds while decorated military servicemen unveiled the bronze statues honoring two dogs for their years of service to both the military and their humans. The memorial is now a symbol for all military service dogs.
On May 18, the National Memorial Ladies, an organization supporting the military and their families, and Cy-Champ PUD held a ceremony for the unveiling of statues honoring two service dogs at Cy-Champ Park near the Fallen Soldiers Memorial.
Bretagne, a golden retriever and Cypress native, was the last living search and rescue canine during 9/11 before she died in 2016. Eli, present at the event, was a black labrador and a military working dog with his owner Pfc. Colton Rusk, who died in Afghanistan.
Ron Walkowiak, president of the Cy-Champ PUD, thanked veterans, sponsors and several public figures from the community for attending including U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw, his wife Tara Crenshaw and Sam Harless, Texas state representative for district 126. The Commemorative Air Force performed a flyover during the service.
Rusk’s parents attended the somber event with Eli. Bretagne’s handler Denise Corliss attended with her current search canine Taser. Corliss was comforted by her husband after initially seeing the statue of Bretagne, while Eli was able to take photos with his statue.
Wolkowiak commended military and civilian service dogs for their sacrifices.
“(Service dogs) obey commands that may end their life and expect nothing in return but love and care,” Walkowiak said. “They are sent in to find lost children as well as fugitives. …They’re ordered to find drugs, weapons and even bombs. Often, they’re the first in and the last to leave.”
Cathlyn Whitfield, president of NML, said the event could not have happened without the funding and aid of Cy-Champ PUD.
“They provided everything (for) building it,” she said. “The National Memorial Ladies collected money but we couldn’t collect enough. We all worked together.”
Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal, thanked MWDs for keeping servicemen safe in combat and serving alongside them.
“When we’re on deployment, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our service dogs.,” he said. “They go into harm’s way so that we don’t have to. They find IEDs like the one that hit me so that we don’t have to sacrifice. We can’t do anything alone in this life.”
The stone wall behind the statues tell the stories of both Bretagne and Eli and pay homage to military and civilian service dogs. Bretagne’s statue is decorated with beams representing debris from the 9/11 attack.
Harless said the event was overdue and needed in order to give proper respect to canines serving.
“It’s only fitting and proper that we recognize the lives and the efforts of the service dogs that have supported our military and first responders for so many years,” Harless said. “Some give their lives and service to our country and community while others die in retirement with little attention given to their service or the unique bond created between themselves and their handlers.”