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Feature

People looking at inscribed bricks along a pathway.

Visitors to the U's Nestl? Purina Memories Garden check out the inscribed bricks that pay permanent tribute to dead pets.

Pets remembered at U's Memories Garden

By Sue Kirchoff and Pauline Oo

June 9, 2006

Mark Jefferis takes his Australian Shepherd, Leo, almost everywhere he goes: to work at a clinic for children and a nursing home for adults with mental illness, restaurants, grocery stores, the movies, salsa and tango dancing, and, this past November, on a plane to Kentucky.

"He sat right next to me at no extra charge," says Jefferis, of his dog's first plane ride. "People on the plane would reach between the seats to pet him. He especially liked walking through the Chicago concourse."

Leo was born New Year's Day 2004, and Jefferis, who got him at 50 days old, had Leo trained and certified as a service hearing dog by the Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota last summer. Hearing dogs alert a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to sounds such as a doorbell, alarm clock, telephone, smoke detector, crying baby, or intruder. Service dogs are also trained to assist a person with physical disabilities by picking up and carrying objects, pulling wheelchairs, retrieving a cordless phone, opening doors, and other tasks. Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota, which is based in Minneapolis, has trained and placed about 200 assistance dogs with people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or disabled throughout the state at no charge since its incorporation in 1987.

On June 6, the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine paid a special tribute to Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota (HSDM) at an annual ceremony in the Nestl? Purina Memories Garden on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. About 65 people attended the evening event, which saw 18 bricks laid in memory of the hearing and service dogs that have died since HSDM's founding. About 40 clients and friends of the college bought bricks to be permanently placed in the garden as memorials to their companion animals.

Buy a brick, remember a pet

The Nestl? Purina Memories Garden is located on the east side of the Animal Science/Veterinary Medicine building at 1988 Fitch Ave. on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. Two brick sizes are available. For $250, a person can buy a 4-by-8-inch brick inscribed with up to 42 characters on 3 lines; for $500, an 8-by-8-inch brick with up to 84 characters on 6 lines. New bricks are dedicated each year at the memorial ceremony, where people share pictures, poems, and memories of their companion animals.

Funds raised through the sale of the bricks help support the Veterinary Medical Center's Social Work Service, which provides support, advocacy, and referral services to clients dealing with issues related to their companion animals' health, wellness, and death. To learn more about the garden, call Shirley De la Torre at 612-624-6146 or e-mail delat010@umn.edu.

"Pets are an irreplaceable part of our family and our lives," says Jeffrey Klausner, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "When that unique relationship ends, we experience a profound sense of loss and sadness. The Memories Garden gives people a way to permanently memorialize their pets."

Established in 2002, the Memories Garden was initially funded by Nestl? Purina. It provides private seating areas under mature trees and a walkway lined with flowers for owners to spend quiet time with pets being treated at the Veterinary Medical Center. The garden continues to flourish thanks to more than 100 donors or clients of the medical center who have sponsored bricks or benches as permanent tributes to their pets or make donations toward landscaping.

"The annual event brings people together to share memories of their pets and comfort one another," says Shirley De la Torre, the college staff member who planned this year's memorial ceremony. "Our tribute to Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota salutes this special facet of the human-animal bond." In May 2005, bricks were laid in honor of Minneapolis and St. Paul police dogs that were killed in the line of duty over the past 25 years.