WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Every dog has its day, the saying goes.
Twenty-five service dogs from as far as Massachusetts and Texas had theirs at Bethany Community Center on Pascack Road on Saturday, as the pups and their handlers were given red-carpet treatment and plenty of praise to honor K9 Veterans Day.
Rick Calderoni, representing Ramapo Rescue Dog Association, of Ramsey, was among the guests, with his dog, Nikko, an 11-year-old German Shepherd.
“We’re all volunteers,” said Calderoni, of New City, New York. “Our dogs help law enforcement to find missing persons in the wilderness.”
Tails of Hope Foundation Inc., a Pine Bush, New York-based nonprofit, has brought the ceremony to North Jersey since 2014. Saturday’s sixth annual event was co-hosted by Park Ridge Animal Hospital and Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers, a charity from Hewitt.
Linda Blick, a co-founder of Tails of Hope, said the event was held at the Elks Lodge in Park Ridge, but her organization outgrew that venue.
“K9s serve every single day of the year to better society for us — 24/7,” Blick said to open a two-hour ceremony, attended by hundreds of people in the community center’s auditorium.
Professional service dogs can perform dozens of tasks, experts said at the ceremony. Many of them were represented by dogs recognized on Saturday.
There were service dogs used in arson detection to find fire accelerants. Bomb-sniffing dogs, therapy dogs for disabled veterans and military working dogs — trained in combat as sentries and trackers — all were introduced to the audience.
New Jersey was the first state to officially recognize K9 Veterans Day, falling on March 13, the birthday of the Army K9 Corps in 1942, said Frank Yevchak, founder of Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers.
Former Gov. Chris Christie signed a law to name the official holiday statewide in 2011.
The day has not caught on across the entire country, but Yevchak, a retired police officer, said he hopes to change that. The West Milford resident has lobbied lawmakers for years to make it a national holiday.
“Our K9s have proven themselves over and over by saving lives on battlefields, during police actions, natural and terrorist disasters and comforting those with dire needs,” Yevchak said. “They have bled, suffered and died, while serving us, and have done so with unconditional love, courage and devotion.”
The program began with a presentation of colors by Park Ridge Boy Scouts, and a rendition of the national anthem by Kristen Plumley, an opera singer.
Blick, the afternoon’s emcee, welcomed speakers to the stage and presented prizes, including the Sirius Courage Award to David Kontny, chief of staff for the joint program office for countering IEDs — or, improvised explosive devices — for the FBI.
The award is named for Sirius, the only professional K9 killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.
A portion of the program was dedicated to veterinarians, who sometimes are called on to save the lives of service dogs, Blick said.
Calderoni said Park Ridge Animal Hospital and The Animal Medical Center in New York might have saved Nikko’s life when the cadaver dog came down with Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
Nikko — one of three Ramapo Rescue dogs in attendance on Saturday — is healthier than ever, his handler said.
“These dogs are incredible,” Calderoni said, proudly, as he scratched his companion behind its ear. “Whatever we ask them to do, they can do it.”