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Front Page - Friday, October 11, 2019

Rogers column: Tennessee Animal Hall of Fame a bit short on details

Everybody knows about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. But Tennessee is awash in halls of fame.

I began to suspect as this when reading of the recent death of David Wright in Lebanon. Wright, who transported students for 50 of his 76 years, was laid to rest in a specially designed coffin made to look like a school bus, befitting of his status as a member of the Tennessee School Bus Drivers Hall of Fame.

If school bus drivers are afforded such a distinction, I wondered, how many other interests might offer similar honors?

Bunches, is the answer.

A by-no-means-exhaustive (I have my limits) search turned up more than 40 examples. They ranged from the sporting world (football, golf, wrestling) to other forms of music (blues, rockabilly, gospel) to assorted callings (health care, journalism, insurance).

I’m sure that the members of all the various halls are honored to have been named and probably expressed as much in some sort of acceptance remarks.

But my focus today is on honorees who I’m quite sure have never spoken a word about their accomplishments: The Tennessee Animal Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association, the award “was established to honor domestic animals who exemplify the strength and value of the human-animal bond.”

It’s not a hall to visit in a physical sense.

“We don’t have a place where it’s all recorded, like a museum or anything like that,” said Deloris Green Gaines, executive director of the association.

Nor is there yet a website you can go to, other than some really cool YouTube videos for the past six inductees.

In case you’re curious, here they are:

2014 – Rowdy Allen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3l-r-DkyYM

2015 – Cricket:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrx_BqYxN7I

2016 – Kody Baer: https://youtu.be/ds8u9uvInCA

2017 – Kendalee Moore:  https://youtu.be/He-CZ7qZtDQ

2018 – Cocoa Finley:  https://youtu.be/scOi-yuq_YY

2019 – Henry Amore:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiAEQtc5rMQ

But Gaines did pass along the information she has, starting with the initial inductees in 1993, which included two categories: Companion and professional. Bud, “an abandoned, scruffy St. Bernard cross” who made himself a fixture at the Hillcrest Nursing Home in Knoxville, took the companion honor.

Bentley and Sundance, “father and son golden retrievers” whose owner took them to various health care facilities to boost the spirits of patients and residents, were named professional winners.

A third category was added in the second year: Hero. The winner was Mindy, a 6-year-old Boston terrier who warned her owner three times of threatening situations: sparks from a fireplace burning the carpet, a potential burglar in the backyard and rising water from a flooded creek.

Sounds like a particularly star-crossed owner. Thank goodness for Mindy.

And so it’s gone over the years, with new categories sometimes appearing and others disappearing.

Cats, I must say, have been somewhat underrepresented among the honorees. I attribute this partly to their general aversion to the spotlight; many have probably requested that their owners not put them up for consideration.

A notable exception among the honorees is Cleopatra.

A 2-year-old gray tabby, Cleopatra “lost her life as a result of heartless acts perpetuated against her by a human,” reads information the association passed on. Accounts of her story led a state representative to file legislation increasing the punishment for animal cruelty.

“Cleopatra’s abuser was prosecuted, received the harshest penalty for animal cruelty ever handed down in Tennessee and was denied a request for suspension of his sentence.”

Cleopatra was named the 1997 President’s Award of Honor, “for her spirit and courage as she fought to live.”

If you’re still reading, and can see through the tears, here’s maybe my favorite winner: Aron, a Metro Nashville K-9 police officer. Aron and his partner were both shot by an armed-robbery suspect.

“Aron, though hurt, crawled over and [lay] on top of his partner to protect him from further injury,” the association notes. The partner survived; Aron did not.

“Aron was buried with full honors, befitting an officer who died in the line of duty.” He also received the 1999 President’s Award of Honor.

Not all the information I got on the hall inductees was so complete. As a result, I can’t help wondering what Harvey, a Dutch dwarf rabbit, did to win his Professional honor in 2001. Or how Snowball, a domestic long-hair cat, copped the Hero honor in 2003. Or why there seems to be no information available for any winners in 2000.

The folks at the Veterinary Association did a good thing in deciding to honor animals. It would be an even better thing if they would devote the resources necessary to collect the stories on all the winners, and make it available to the public.

I think Cleopatra, Aron and the other winners deserve it. Don’t you?

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com