Michael Jernigan lost his eyes when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq on August 22, 2004. Without his sight, he told the crowd gathered on the banks of the Hillsborough River last Friday night, he had a profound feeling of loneliness and darkness. Michael’s first guide dog, Brittani, gave him back his courage, freedom and independence. With Brittani by his side, Michael went back to college, graduated from USF-St. Pete in May 2012 and became a motivational speaker.
Guide dogs have helped the visually impaired find a new lease on life for over a hundred years. To those whose lives they have changed, guide dogs are superheroes.
Last Friday night, the superheroes were on parade in Curtis Hixon Park as Southeastern Guide Dogs unveiled Tampa’s first seven superhero dog sculptures:
First up? Newman, sponsored by the City of Tampa.
Next, Trusty, sponsored by Sabal Trust Company.
Harrison, sponsored by Hercules Fence.
Jeannie, the office dog, sponsored by Bobby and Meredith Newman of Newman Cigars.
Cruiser, sponsored by AAA.
Vicente, sponsored by Morejon Real Estate.
Berkeley, sponsored by Mise en Place.
Each dog sculpture was designed and cast by Scott Moore and associates at Moore Art Expressions in Port Charlotte, FL, to help raise money for Southeastern Guide Dogs. Thus far, Moore has sculpted approximately 55 identical dogs for the City of Sarasota in 2016, and another 45 for Tampa & St. Pete in 2017 (so many he’s now lost count). Local businesses pay to sponsor the dogs and partner with local artists who paint the sculptures, culminating in Superheroes on Parade.
After the unveiling, I talked to some of the artists about the inspiration behind their painted dogs. Trusty was named by its sponsor, Sabal Trust Company, a play on the business name. The artist, Joan Garcia, painted Trusty with sabal palm branches, also inspired by the company name. In keeping with the bank theme, Joan used old stock certificates to inspire the cape design.
Bobby and Meredith Newman gave Tampa artist, Arlene Ligori, a box of J.C. Newman cigars and asked her to use the labels for Jeannie's cape and the wrappers for the base. The wrappers were moist tobacco leaves, and Arlene covered the base with them.
Jorge Morejon, of Morejon Real Estate, and artist, Lorraine Potocki decided they didn’t want a “real estate dog.” Instead, they used Tampa’s Cuban heritage to inspire the painting of their dog sculpture, which they named Vicente after Ybor City’s founder, Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Vicente’s cape is the Cuban flag, and the base is painted with a rooster and cigars, as one would find in Ybor City.
As I walk around the sculptures, I hear talk of favorites. Even Moore has his favorite dog. On May 1, the dogs were relocated to sponsored locations and public parks around Tampa, where they will stay until October. Southeastern Guide Dogs hopes to get an additional 30 superhero dog sculptures sponsored and painted before the next unveiling in June. Go to guidedogs.org/superheroes to see locations and photos of each sculpture, and donate $1 to Southeastern Guide Dogs to vote for your favorite.