About three months ago, Angus the Dalmatian, beloved mascot and honorary member of the Durham Highway Fire Department for 14 years, had to be put down because of increasingly painful seizures. In the wake of his death Feb. 23, firefighters discovered Angus had touched more lives than they knew.
Donations toward a memorial in Angus’ honor have streamed in, not to mention offers of free food, flea shampoo, obedience training and veterinary care for the station’s next firedog. Dalmatian breeders from Virginia to Alaska have offered to give the North Raleigh station one of their dogs for free.
An Angus fan in central Pennsylvania sent a memorial pencil sketch of the Dalmatian, and Franklinton-based artist M. Theresa Brown, whose portrait fees range into the thousands, donated a painting of Angus to hang in the fire station last week.
“We felt pretty empty for a while after he died,” firefighter Baker Mills said. “This is a way for us to remember him.”
Firedogs used to be an institution at fire departments, Capt. Barry Andrews said, a tradition dating back to the days when fire pumps were horse-drawn and Dalmatians would run alongside to calm the horses at the site of the fire. But they’ve grown increasingly rare. Durham Highway was one of the few in Wake County to have a firedog, Andrews said, and most believe they were the only station to have a Dalmatian.
“Angus literally watched dozens and dozens of boys come into this fire department and men come back out. Angus was that link between the old and the new,” firefighter Michael Greenham said. “Angus was the one there for every shift, morning, noon and night, for 14 years.”
In his early days, Angus rode to fires curled up in a helmet on the dashboard of the firetruck. He got his name from one of his first fires, a blaze at the Angus Barn restaurant. Later, he would stand in front of the truck when the alarm went off until they let him climb aboard, Andrews said – Angus wasn’t about to let the firefighters go anywhere important without him.
“It was fun to come to work when he was here,” Andrews said. “You looked forward to seeing him.”
Stop, drop, roll
The firefighters taught Angus how to stop, drop and roll, how to test a door for heat and how to crawl on his belly underneath smoke. In turn, Angus taught those lessons by example to local schoolchildren at community days and school events.
“It used to be that kids wanted to see the fire truck,” Andrews said. “Then we got Angus, and they didn’t care anymore – they wanted to see Angus.”
Earlier this year, Angus started having painful seizures. Sometimes when he lay down, he couldn’t get back up again. The veterinarian told the department it was time.
They picked a date two weeks away and put the word out to neighborhood groups and in HOA bulletins, inviting the community to come say goodbye. The response was overwhelming. A dozen or more people stopped by a day, bringing Angus everything from cozy dog beds to Arby’s cheeseburgers to whole steaks.
“People felt I think a sense of comfort when Angus was there – because for 14 years, Angus was always there,” Greenham said.
Time for goodbye
When it came time for Angus to go, the department asked his veterinarian to perform the procedure at the station. The whole department was in Class A uniforms with mourning bands on their badges, Greenham said. Three nearby fire departments stood by to answer any calls.
Afterward, firefighters laid Angus in a basket stretcher on the back of the fire truck, covered with their department flag, and held a full funeral procession to the animal hospital, where he was cremated.
The department is still a ways from raising the $5,000 to $10,000 for a proper memorial, Greenham said, but the donations continue to stream in since February, $20 at a time. A YouTube tribute video has gotten responses from viewers across the country.
The station plans to get another Dalmatian at some point, Greenham said, but it has to be the right dog – like Angus.