Four years ago, a dedicated group of individuals led the charge to save the oldest pet cemetery in Texas from extinction. Cedar Hill Pet Memorial Park, located just south of Dallas, was in a state of disrepair and slated for the property tax auction block.
“There are no laws in the state of Texas that protect pet cemeteries,” said Theresa M. Brandon, founder of the Cedar Hill Pet Memorial Project, Inc., the non-profit created to save the property, renovate it, and maintain it in perpetuity. “This is prime property in an industrial zone, and it was a community asset that was in danger of being forgotten.”
Brandon took notice of the property’s plight following the untimely loss of her own two-year-old dog and formed the non-profit to save the final resting place of over 5,500 beloved animals, which includes a few “famous” residents, such as performance and circus animals, as well as the late actress Jane Mansfield’s dog, Wendy. But it wasn’t enough to buy the property, Brandon needed a plan to maintain it long-term.
One of the group’s board of directors at the time, Nic Collins, developed the idea of the War Dog Monument as a way to generate awareness for the park, while at the same time honor the value that pets add to people’s lives.
“Nic was a former Air Force officer who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Brandon said. “He often transported dogs and their military handlers and recognized the special bond between man and animal.”
Brandon then created the “Join the Vision!” campaign to market the War Dog project and raise the necessary funds needed.
In 2013, the group contracted international artist Susan Bahary, sculptor for a number of war dog monuments around the world, to create “Enduring Valor,” a bronze statue in the likeness of Titus, a Belgian Malinois in service with the K-9 unit of the Cedar Hill Police Department.
“People really got on board with the War Dog project,” said Brandon, who helped garner donations of building materials from local businesses, as well as professional services from HRO Architects, Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers, E-W Associates MEP engineers, CWR Structural Engineering, and Berkenbile Landscape Architects. However, finding a hardscape contractor was a stumbling block for the project until Brandon discovered Belgard.
“We reached out to many companies in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and received lots of ‘yes, we’ll help you’ to only tell us later that they were sorry they couldn’t help,” said Brandon. “In desperation, I searched the internet and found Belgard and placed a call requesting information. I was told that, yes, they could help us and that their project manager would also help us locate a construction company to build the project and would stand with us until it was finished. That was music to my ears.”
Belgard production manager Chad Akin introduced the group to Josh Thomas, vice president of PavePro in Grand Prairie, Texas, and the project began to come to life in time to meet the looming deadline of the planned dedication ceremony.
“Belgard delivered exactly what they promised during a time when we needed nothing short of a miracle,” Brandon said.
The project was completed in two phases. The first phase, completed prior to the May 2014 dedication ceremony, included two arched Castle Manor™ freestanding walls that flank a Holland Stone cobble plaza, centered on the statue of “Enduring Valor.” The ceremony was quite the community event, attended by dignitaries from three surrounding cities and incorporating a parade of over 60 vehicles, live K-9 demonstrations, and a performance by the Brass Quintet from the Marine Corps Field Band stationed in New Orleans.
After additional fundraisers held by PETCO stores across Dallas/Fort Worth, the second phase was completed in September of 2015 to include a striking Holland Stone paver walkway, leading to the monument.
“The walkway, in the form of a cross, was designed to represent the hilt of a sword and travels up to the statue of the dog, which represents the blade that our police and military wield in our defense,” Brandon said.
In addition to the successful completion of their War Dog Monument, the Cedar Hill Memorial Project, Inc., also succeeded in having the park declared a historical landmark, to guarantee its protection in the future.