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Tag: monument

National monument honors dogs in combat

monument

The United States’ first national monument to military working dogs was dedicated at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on Monday.

The nine-foot tall bronze statue, built with private funds, features four dogs and a handler and is inscribed with the words “Guardians of America’s Freedom.”

Lackland is home to the U.S. Armed Forces center that has trained dogs for all branches of the military since 1958.

The sculpture features dogs of four major breeds — Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, and Belgian malinois — and honors all those who have served in all branches of the military over theyears.

You can learn more about the memorial, how it came to be, and donate to the cause here.

(Photo: Benjamin Faske / U.S. Air Force)

Salvation Mountain: A heap of commitment

Between the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains — in what may sound, and look, like a space you’d land on in the old board game Candyland — there was a man, and a mountain, I needed to check in on.

About 12 years had passed since I first visited Salvation Mountain — Leonard Knight’s massive, hand-painted monument to God. I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, fond of seeking out stories in the middle of nowhere. He was 67 by then, and had spent almost 15 years constructing his mountain out of hay, tires, adobe and more than 100,000 gallons of paint.

What struck me then was his incredible commitment to the task. What struck me this time is how, even after finding a modicum of fame, what with his own book and DVD and his appearance in the movie, “Into the Wild,” his determination and focus remain — not on himself, not on getting rich, but on the mountain, its maintenance and its continued survival.

Leonard, at 79, is still at it.

He can’t hear too well. His eyes are going bad. He walks with a pronounced limp, and he can no longer lift the hay bales he uses as bricks, or to mix up adobe, to fashion his ever-expanding monument.

While volunteers still drop by to make donations and help with the labor from time to time, on this particular day — Thanksgiving — he was alone.

“Have a seat,” he said, shifting over to the next chair. A blanket was stretched across posts to block out a relentless wind. For the desert, in November, temperatures were chilly. Leonard, wearing paint-spattered khakis, kept his hands stuffed in his jacket as Ace sniffed at the conglomeration of items in the back of his pick up truck.

Salvation Mountain looked much like it did 12 years ago — bright, bold and scripture-laden. But it’s far more famous now, with everyone from National Geographic to Ripley’s Believe it or Not finding it worthy of note.  And after Leonard and the mountain were featured in ”Into the Wild,” the 2007 movie based on the travels and eventual death in the Alaskan wilderness of Chris McCandless, interest in his monument rose again.

Even so, he said, maintaining the mountain, much less working on more recent additions — including a “museum” area that wasn’t there the last time I dropped by — has become a strain. The volunteers seemed fewer this year. Leonard blamed the weather. “The summer was too hot, the winter’s too cold, or it’s just too windy, like it is today. You can’t paint on a day like today.”

Crazy as the weather has been, it’s still better than his native Vermont, he said.

Knight was one of four children, born in Burlington, Vermont. He never liked school, got teased a lot, and dropped out in the 10th grade. In 1951, he joined the Army, was trained as a mechanic and got sent to Korea.

Upon his return, he worked as a mechanic in Vermont, supplementing his income by picking apples, which helped him raise enough money to make trips to Caliornia to visit his sister. He treasured the trips, except for the fact that she would make him go to church.

Leonard hated church, and religion, and God, at that point in his life, and he figured the feeling was mutual. “I wasn’t doin’ nothing that God would be pleased with,” he has pointed out.

During one visit, after an argument with his sister, he stomped out and sat in his truck. There in the driver’s seat — for reasons he can’t explain — he found himself saying, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come into my heart” over and over again.  Jesus, he says, did.

For the first time in his life, Leonard had a sense of direction — and it would be, as it turned out, a very strange direction.

In 1971, still in Vermont, he noticed a hot air balloon one day, advertising a brand of beer.

What if, he thought, he could market God similarly? He began researching and seeking materials to build a hot air balloon, and praying to God to help provide them, but for nine years it remained a distant and unreachable dream.

On a cross-country trip in 1980, he had engine trouble in Nebraska, and had to spend several days there. The mechanic working on his truck offered to help with the balloon project. They got a bargain on some material, and, for three years, Leonard stayed in Nebraska and sewed.

Not one to do things on a small scale, Knight stitched together a balloon that was 200 feet high, 100 feet wide, and built a burner, complete with fans, to help fill the balloon.

The balloon never got off the ground, though. When he came to the desert in Niland, California to make a final attempt to launch it, he discovered the material was rotted.

It was then, in 1985, his 14-year quest to launch a God is Love balloon over — that he decided to build a small replica of the balloon, in the middle of the desert, out of adobe. He planned to stay for a week in Slab City — a makeshift community of desert-dwelling loners, snowbirds, RV’ers and on-the-verge of homelessness types.

But what started as an 8-foot sculpture would become Salvation Mountain, rising about three stories high, an accumulation of tires and other junk salvaged and donated, coated with adobe and brightly painted with flowing rivers, budding flowers, a yellow brick road and Bible scripture –all topped by a big white cross.

It’s a constantly evolving work, and, as you might expect, it has fallen victim to both structural collapses and government bureaucracy, at both the county and state levels.

When state-conducted tests found contaminants in the soil, they blamed Leonard and his paint.

Leonard had his own tests done that proved otherwise.

County supervisors backed off their threats to shut him down, but by then all the free publicity from the controversy had added to the mountain’s legendariness.

Today, the mountain is more likely to be referred to as a work of folk art than an environmental hazard, and even though the mountain is a squatter — an unauthorized work on public land — Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2002 afforded it some protection when she entered it into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.

Leonard lives on the grounds of his masterpiece. He beds down for the night in a small cabin mounted on his 1930s-era fire truck, which like every other vehicle in his compound, be it tractor or bus, is covered with painted-on Bible scripture.

He works on it everyday, weather permitting. A newer ”museum” wing, still under construction, features a tree whose base was created from tires and adobe, and whose branches he cut from dead and fallen trees nearby. He hauled them to the mountain, and bolted them on, painted them and added flowers, which he says are easily made by punching your fist in a mound of adobe not yet dried.

Leonard urged me to go take a look at the addition, and apologized for not making it a guided tour. His leg was bothering him. Ace wasn’t sure what to make of it. He explored its nooks and crannies, and, back at the main mountain, climbed up the yellowbrick road path to near the top.

When I returned and took a seat next to Leonard, he gave me a DVD of a documentary about the mountain, “A Lifetime of Childlike Faith,” and a Salvation Mountain magnet. I asked him what his plans were for Thanksgiving dinner and he said some friends were bringing him some turkey.

Leonard gave Ace a final pat on the head, and we said goodbye to the old man who lives in the desert, having learned, or relearned, at least two things.

One is that there’s a thin and sometimes not immediately discernable line between visionary and nut job, so be careful who you call a nut.

The other is that — however eccentric Leonard Knight may be, and no matter what your feelings are on God — faith can indeed  move mountains.

Or even build them.

Romero pleads guilty in dog’s dragging death

Steven Romero pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of aggravated animal cruelty in connection with the death of Buddy, a stolen German shepherd mix who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in the Colorado National Monument.

While the charge carries a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, it was expected that prosecutors would offer a reduced sentence in exchange for his guilty plea.

Buddy was found dead on Dec. 30. Romero is accused of putting a rope around the dog’s neck and driving until the dog was dead.

Romero, 38, will remain in custody until his sentencing, scheduled for July 30, according to 9News.

“It’s a good day for animal lovers and I’m happy to see this happen. It was the right thing for him to do to accept responsibility,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Meyer said.

Prosecutors say Romero’s sister, 32-year-old Melissa Lockhart, stole the pup from a pickup truck in Fruita and told him to “get rid” of it. Lockhart faces a felony charge for lying to investigators. She will appear in court on May 10 in Grand Junction.

A Facebook page was created in the wake of Buddy’s death. It is called “Demand Justice for Buddy” and has more than 260,000 members around the world.

Memorial erected for Buddy in Colorado

040110_Buddy_the_dog_2_680x480A stone marker in memory of Buddy, the dog dragged to death behind a pickup truck at Colorado National Monument, was erected Thursday at the entrance to the Roice-Hurst Humane Society.

In a quiet ceremony Thursday, the dog’s owners, the Leber family of Delta, again said goodbye to Buddy, whose death touched thousands, and later toured the humane society, according to The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction.

“It’s pretty cool to see people think about animals the way we do,” Sasha Leber said.

The stone, etched with paw prints heading toward a setting sun, was donated and placed in a bed of flowers by Snyder Memorials of Grand Junction. It reads, “In memory of Buddy, and all the animals who have no one to weep for them.”

Steven Romero, 38, is expected to change his plea to guilty to a charge of aggravated cruelty to animals in connection with Buddy’s Dec. 30 death. A hearing is scheduled April 29 in federal court in Denver.

The Lebers plan to attend the court hearing, and in the days before, a candlelight vigil at the humane society.

Buddy was cremated and his ashes are in an urn at their home, Sasha Leber said.

After more than three months since Buddy was stolen from the back of their pickup in Delta, the family still questions why Buddy, and their other dog, Max, a black Labrador retriever and pit bull mix, were taken. Neither knew Melissa Lockhart, 32, of Fruita, who is accused of taking the dogs.

Lockhart, who is Romero’s sister, has pleaded not guilty to stealing the dogs and is slated for trial Aug. 16.

(Photo: Christopher Tomlinson / The Daily Sentinel)

Dragged dog: Ugly act in a place of beauty

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A truly ugly act took place this morning in a truly beautiful place: A dog was dragged two miles to his death at the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction.

The dog – a German shepherd, or shepherd-blue heeler mix — was found with a silver and blue rope around its neck by the chief of maintenance at the monument about 4:30 a.m., according to a park press release.

“This was an incredible act of cruelty done to a defenseless animal,” Joan Anzelmo, superintendent of the monument told The Denver Post. “It is a sickening, sickening type of crime. We are leaving no stone unturned.”

In terms of despicability, we’d have to rank it up there with the dog thrown off a bridge in Lithuania — and it’s a reminder, too, that we in America, despite all the do-gooding when it comes to dogs, have a long way to go as well when it comes to protecting animals from the depraved individuals among us.

Anzelmo said tracks left in the snow clearly show the dog initially walked behind the car, then ran and then was dragged when it couldn’t keep up with the vehicle. Once dead, it was untied from the vehicle and dumped.

She said the dog was pulled up one of the steepest hills at the monument, through two inches of snow and multiple switchbacks, and either ran or was dragged as the car climbed 1,000 feet in elevation.

draggeddogThe animal was neutered and showed no signs of previous abuse, she said. A veterinary pathologist from Colorado State University will perform a necropsy on the dog.

Anzelmo said rewards will be offered to apprehend the persons responsible, and that some tips have already come in over a tip line established as part of the investigation:  970-712-2798. Callers may remain anonymous.

“The employees of Colorado National Monument are sickened by this heinous act and are determined to find the person who committed this cruel crime,” the park press release said.

(For subsequent posts and all of our coverage of Buddy, click here.)

(Photos: National Park Service)

Peanut-sniffing dogs help the severely allergic

To drugs, explosives, fleeing criminals, oncoming seizures and even cancer, add peanuts to the list of what dogs are saving lives by sniffing out.

About a dozen dogs in the country have been trained to detect the presence of peanuts, and protect their owners from serious allergic reactions.

One of them, Rock’O, a Portugese water dog, is safeguarding a Colorado girl named Riley Mers, 8, whose allergy to peanuts is so severe that contact with them could send her body into shock within minutes.

“It might look to you like it’s a kid playing with a dog,” Riley’s mother, Sherry, told ABC News. “To me, that’s a dog that’s saving my daughter’s life while they’re playing.”

“Training a peanut allergy dog to sniff out peanuts is much like training a dog to do narcotics or bomb sniffing,” said Tina Rivero, head trainer of Angel Service Dogs in Monument. “It’s just a different scent that they are hitting on. Instead of the marijuana or the cocaine or the bomb, they are actually finding the peanut.”

Having Rock’O along — even at school — means Riley no longer has to wear gloves, or ask classmates if they had peanut butter for lunch.

Upon detecting peanuts Rock’O sits in his “alert” position — a stance he’s been trained to make to let Riley know that he’s found something she should avoid.

“I can actually go to the mall. I can actually go to bowling alleys,” Riley said said. “I’m wanting to go to college, and I’m going to be able to.”