A memorial to lost pets from near and far

July 24, 2011 - 12:14 AM

In the hours before dawn on Nov. 11, 2008, the county animal shelter in Calhoun, Ky. went up in flames. Weeks later, Robin Long couldn't stop thinking about the 13 cats and three puppies that perished inside.

"I had been over there two days before and I was playing with one of the puppies — his name was Buddy," says Long, president of the local Humane Society chapter at the time. "We get to know them pretty well. We know their names and their characteristics. It hurt us all pretty well because we knew them."

Long and others decided to create a memorial park where fellow dog owners could take their pets to run and reflect on companions they'd lost over the years.

They'd begun making plans when Long heard about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's offer to give World Trade Center to groups for use in their own memorials. She sent in an application, explaining her plans for a park, one that could also offer a place to thank firefighters and other first-responders, both for what they'd done in New York and for their work in Calhoun, rescuing animals from the burning shelter.

Soon after her request was granted, she received an e-mail from a New Yorker she'd never met. David Lim explained that he was a police officer for the Port Authority. On Sept. 11, he rushed into the north tower to help people escape, leaving his K-9 partner, a yellow Labrador retriever named Sirius, in the South Tower. Lim survived, though he was still in a fourth-floor stairwell when the tower fell around him. Sirius' body was pulled from the wreckage months later.

Could the animal lovers in Calhoun, Ky. find a place in their park to remember Lim's partner?

Of course, Long answered.

Long's group sketched out plans for a place to be called Rainbow Bridge Memorial Park. To one side, the names of the animals lost in the Calhoun fire will be cut into paving stones. And at the base of a flag pole, she wants to place the steel with the plaque in honor of the Lab lost on Sept. 11.

A few weeks ago, Long received a package from the Port Authority, weighing about 7 or 8 pounds, holding a piece of steel roughly as long as an electronic keyboard. It came after Calhoun was hit hard by flooding this spring, straining the budgets of the town and the county and complicating Long's efforts to raise money for the memorial park.

"I just kind of looked at it and laughed and cried and smiled real big," she says. "We're not giving up (on the park). It might take a little while given that there's only 15 of us and it's a rural county. But we will succeed in getting it done."