Wilshire doesn’t have to say, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” to teach children about fire safety.
The Dalmatian stops, drops and rolls to show pupils what to do if their clothes catch on fire. He barks three times and pushes the numbers 911 to demonstrate who to call in an emergency. The pup demonstrates how to safely escape a burning building by crawling on his belly. This canine ally of Los Angeles City Firefighters performs various tricks in videos and assemblies.
He also has a new video that identifies fire hazards in homes and shows how to prepare a home safety plan.
“Wilshire is a great tool for fire safety education,” wrote Wilshire’s human, Firefighter Ryan Penrod III, in an e-mail.
But Wilshire’s work isn’t limited to performances. He has visited patients at a burn center and at the Shriners Hospital for Children Los Angeles. Penrod and Wilshire address childhood obesity by encouraging young people to exercise and eat healthy. Wilshire makes his point by working out with firefighters in one video.
Another cause close to Wilshire’s heart is pet adoption because as a puppy, he was surrendered by his original owner in 2006.
A 10-year-old girl couldn’t keep the young Wilshire because her apartment was too small for three people and a dog. She hoped the crew at Fire Station 29 on Wilshire Boulevard could take him.
The firefighters told the girl to take the pup to the local animal shelter. But after the child learned the shelter would keep her puppy for only a week, she returned to the station and insisted the pooch stay with her heroes.
The firefighters adopted the orphaned dog and named him after the boulevard the station is on. But transitioning from a small family in an apartment to a fire house with 16 people who rotate through three shifts wasn’t easy for a pup.
Wilshire chewed on boots and urinated on the chief’s brief case, Penrod wrote. Once Wilshire gulped down a meal firefighters left behind when they rushed to an emergency.
Penrod was afraid Wilshire would cry on his first night at the station so Penrod brought the pup to the dorm to sleep, according to the Larchmont Chronicle. But the rest of the crew nixed that and Wilshire learned to sleep in his crate.
It was hard to provide consistent training for Wilshire with constantly changing humans. The station mascot caused firefighters to worry when he bolted out of open garage doors when fire engines left for emergencies.
Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan came to the rescue with a three-part strategy of exercise, discipline and affection, according to the Larchmont Chronicle. Because firefighters had to wait at the station in case of calls, they couldn’t take Wilshire on walks. So Millan taught Wilshire to use a treadmill. Wilshire also learned what parts of the station are off-limits and stopped running away.
Wilshire’s training has been supplemented primarily by Hollywood dog trainer Clint Rowe, and Penrod has worked with the dog, too. Penrod and Rowe operate the non-profit Friends of Wilshire which supports the fire dog’s safety and health programs for children.
Penrod recently was assigned to Station 20 on Sunset Boulevard, and Wilshire went with him. Wilshire accompanies Penrod to work, but Penrod must first make sure conditions are safe enough for a dog.
Wilshire doesn’t respond to emergencies but he has ridden on the fire engine when firefighters had to go out on a call while visiting a school. He loves riding in fire trucks but his veterinarian discourages it because the sirens would hurt his ears, Penrod wrote.
While Wilshire is good for public relations, he also offered firefighters at his old station another benefit.
“He is also nice to have around to give you a little nudge during a long day or after a tough call,” Penrod wrote. “Fire Station 29 averages over 24 calls a day.”