Anyone who has ever had a special bond with a pet knows the relationship goes much deeper than simply man and beast.
But for Eric and Liz DiBartolo, their German shepherd Blaze was even more than that irreplaceable canine companion. He was a partner – literally.
The Czech-born, highly skilled Blaze, who died last month of cancer, was the only arson-detecting dog in Westchester County, and one of only four in the state.
To his handler and owner, Eric, a volunteer fire investigator with the Westchester County Department of Emergency Services, and Liz, owner of Euro Laser Services in Rye, there will never be another like him.
“We had a bond that was second to none,” says Eric.
Eric DiBartolo first met Blaze eight years ago this month when the 18-month-old dog, fresh from his native Czech Republic, arrived in New York for training at the New York State Fire Academy in Montour Falls.
Eric and Blaze got to know each other well, sharing eight hour days of training before graduating from the academy that December.
Here are some shots of Blaze and Eric at work, courtesy the Mohegan Lake Fire Dept.
In the years that followed, Eric and Blaze traveled from Manhattan to Upstate New York investigating about 1,000 suspicious fires.
The way Eric tells it, he and Blaze had a powerful way of communicating. Blaze, whose formal training was in detecting any ignitable liquid, at times would let Eric know through his expression that arson was in play before even entering a fire scene.
“People would say he’s talking to you,” Eric says.
And, when it came to his work, Blaze was always right on target when it came to finding and identifying a source of arson. “Blaze never missed,” Eric says.
He was well rounded, too, able to climb ladders and act as an ambassador for the County’s arson bureau at area schools and fire prevention programs.
During his off hours, however, Blaze enjoyed the life of leisure of any treasured pet, hanging out with Eric at his day job as Yorktown’s highway superintendent, and going for long runs with Liz.
“Blaze was just a dog all the time,” Eric says.
His only downside: “He hated every other dog in the world,” Eric says. “It didn’t matter if it was a puppy or a St. Bernard, he hated them all.”
The DiBartolos, who, without children of their own, considered Blaze an even more important part of their family, say they will in time get another dog – likely a German shepherd pup, or even two.
But Blaze made such an impact on Eric, he says he’ll never have another canine fire inspection companion again.
It would just be too hard.
“I don’t get attached to anything except Liz,” Eric says, “so I never thought I’d be attached as I was to this dog.”