Pongo, the fire dog, dies

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, July 12, 2007

A long-time member of the Picayune Fire Department, Pongo the fire dog, has died and will be sorely missed.

Pongo came to the department about six months after his birth and had been with the department ever since.

Fire Chief Keith Brown said Pongo was born on Jan. 8, 1994. Because of heart problems, Pongo had to be put down on July 6.

Pongo fought with health problems all his life. Brown said Pongo was deaf and later started to have seizures. In the end, heart failure caused the department to have Pongo put down, he said.

Kevin Smith, who owns and runs the Animal Health Clinic in Picayune, covered the cost Pongo’s life-long health care and medication and essentially adopted Pongo as his own, Brown said. Without Smith’s help, Brown said Pongo’s health care would have been very expensive for the department.

At least once a year the department makes visits to children at various Picayune schools to tell them about fire safety and teach other life lessons. When teachers would call to schedule those visits, they would always be sure to ask for Pongo’s presence as well, said department employee Janet Guidry.

“Kids would rather see the dog than the fire truck,” Brown said. “So he’s going to be missed.”

As long as Pongo was in attendance, firefighters knew they had the children’s full attention, Brown said. Over the course of his time at the department, Brown estimates Pongo influenced about 1,000 children.

“He saw a lot of kids in those 12 to 13 years (of his life),” Brown said.

A Houdini of sorts, Pongo knew how to escape the confines of his fenced abode. He became a regular visitor to the nearby neighborhood and sometimes to Claiborne Hill and other stores in the same shopping center. Since he was deaf, no amount of calling his name would get Pongo to return, Brown said.

Guidry and other members of the department helped to take care of Pongo during his tenure as the department’s mascot. However, it was Guidry who treated him like a king. She served him ice water and put fresh hay for his bed in his house every day, Brown said.

“He was just the one person up here that was going to be glad to see me,” Guidry said.

The department, still in mourning, is not in a hurry to adopt a new mascot since Pongo’s passing.

“Me and Janet and a bunch of us really got attached and it really hurts now that he’s gone,” Brown said.

Brown and the rest of the department said they would like to give a special thanks to Kevin Smith for taking such good care of Pongo.