By Linda Wilson Fuoco
Firefighters who carried the lifeless body of a puppy out of a burning Illinois house refused to give up on her, administering aid at the scene and then taking her to a veterinarian. The 6-month-old black Labrador retriever-mix was on oxygen 24/7 for three days and had to be hand-fed, but she pulled through.
The firefighters at Station 2 in Jacksonville, Ill., called her Smokey and adopted her as their firehouse dog, training her for public appearances. On command, she will "stop, drop and roll" to teach children what to do if they are ever caught in a burning building.
They entered Smokey, now 4, in a national contest seeking "the perfect firehouse pooch" to appear in an episode of the NBC show "Chicago Fire." Smokey, one of three finalists that appeared on NBC's "Today" show Sept. 24, was chosen from more than 100 canine contestants as the winner, with 51 percent of television viewers' votes.
The date of her cameo appearance in an episode has not been announced.
The second-place winner was Dempsey, 2, a boxer-mastiff mix who was just a puppy when a juvenile intentionally set him on fire. All four paws, his underbelly and part of his tail were burned. He needed nine surgeries to ease his pain and improve his mobility, but life got better. Dempsey is now a firehouse dog for Station 111 in Indianapolis, where he teaches children about the deadly damage that can be caused by playing with fire.
In third place was Wilshire, a Dalmatian named after the Los Angeles street where Station 10 firehouse is based. When his family could no longer keep the white dog with black spots, firefighters took him in and taught him to do fire and safety demonstrations.
Wilshire can not only "stop, drop and roll," he crawls on command and knows how to dial 911 to summon help. He runs on a treadmill and lifts a 100-pound dumbbell to teach children the importance of exercise and healthy eating.
Although I find myself in the odd position of promoting a TV show I've never seen, I thought animal lovers would enjoy stories about dogs that overcame early adversity to find love and a "job" that allows them to help people.
In his daughter's honor
Catherine Greisinger died 10 years ago when fire swept through her Pitcairn apartment. Her grieving father is convinced she died trying to save her cat, Kiki. The 27-year-old woman was found just three feet from the door, the dead cat cradled in her arms.
The death of a child "is the worst thing that can ever happen to you," said Gary Greisinger, 65, of Monroeville. To deal with his grief, he founded Cathy G Charities to raise money for good causes. Because he's a disabled veteran, some of the money goes to soldiers and their families. Other beneficiaries include Make -A-Wish Foundation and Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center.
His yearly fundraiser is next Saturday, 8 p.m. to midnight at Christina's restaurant, 3017 Jacks Run Road, White Oak (15131). A $15 cover charge includes draft beer. There will be an auction and a 50/50 raffle. Mike on the Mic is the entertainment -- that's Mike Greisinger, son of Gary and brother of Cathy.
Prior to Christmas, the charity collects new shoes and toys that will be given to the National Guard for distribution to the families of deployed soldiers.
Mr. Greisinger said he had never liked cats, but in recent years he has adopted six from the Animal Rescue League. He says his cats bring him comfort "and have taught me so much, including patience." He has turned his backyard into what he calls a "wildlife refuge" where he enjoys watching and feeding deer, turkeys, groundhogs, raccoons and squirrels.
And every year on the May 3 anniversary of Cathy's death, he releases 700-800 goldfish in the pond at Homewood Cemetery where his daughter is buried.