Deputies from the Stanislaus County sheriff's K-9 Unit will have a place to honor their four-legged partners after the crime-fighting canines die.
The K-9 Unit commissioned Modesto-based Stone Bella to design a memorial for the dogs that have died since the K-9 unit was formed in 1981.
Since then, 32 dogs have joined the unit, and 19 of those have died of natural causes, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a sheriff's spokesman. None has died because of injuries received while on duty.
"We were inspired by the project," said Stone Bella's Troy Bradbury. "It has a lot of deep meaning to (the K-9 Unit), and people who love dogs will relate to the sculpture, too."
Deputy Barry Ballance spearheaded the effort on behalf of the K-9 Unit. After his first K-9 partner, Pepa, was euthanized because of cancer, Ballance thought these dogs should be memorialized for their public service.
Ballance said the German shepherd routinely risked his life, and the dog was once severely bitten by a pit bull while trying to apprehend a suspect.
"On more than one occasion, he pulled my butt out of the fire," Ballance said. "These dogs are a big part of our family."
Raising funds for years
Several years ago, the K-9 Unit began raising money to build a memorial by selling T-shirts and commemorative coins.
The unit initially considered smaller designs for a memorial, but switched to grander sculpture designs after a donation made a bigger memorial possible.
"Those dogs are officers and should be recognized as such," said the donor, Gary Baird, president of the Empire Sportsmen's Association in Modesto. "They are risking their lives just like the officers, and that memorial is going to last forever."
The trouble was finding someone to design the dog tribute that shared the K-9 Unit's vision for the sculpture. Several companies were approached but did not seem interested.
Ballance said he discovered Stone Bella, a Modesto architectural and monument design business, while researching sculpture designs on the Internet.
The deputy called Stone Bella's Frank Bradbury, who invited Ballance to the business on Kearney Avenue to discuss design ideas.
Frank, Troy and Lance Bradbury have owned and operated the business for five years.Firm to cover difference in cost
The cost to build the memorial, about $45,000, was double what the K-9 Unit had raised through donations and fund-raisers. The Bradbury brothers decided to donate the remaining amount.
"We thought we could help out the Sheriff's Department," said Frank Bradbury. "We feel Modesto needs more public art."
The final design consists of a life-sized bronzed German shepherd standing on a 7-foot-long block of black granite. A seven-point star replicating a sheriff's badge will be carved in the granite block.
"To carve a hole through a 7,000-pound block of granite that's 20 inches thick is definitely a difficult task," said Frank Bradbury. "It's a very unique piece of stone."
The names and photographs of the dogs that have died will be engraved on brass plaques and placed on the granite block's face next to the carved star.
Each time a dog dies, a new photograph and name will be added to the memorial. The sheriff's K-9 Unit hopes to unveil the memorial in a few months in a public ceremony.
The Bradbury brothers said they were moved to help create the memorial because they realized how much impact the dogs have on the lives of deputies, even after the dogs die.
"First of all, the dogs are their friends," said Lance Bradbury. "Second, the dogs are their partners."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.