The Century Walk Corporation

Pet project: New Riverwalk sculpture celebrates Humane Society

August 19, 2014 — Source: Naperville Sun — Author: Susan Frick Carlman

The geese have company.

A new pair of animal likenesses stands watch, one perched on the other’s back, along the Riverwalk near the Naperville Park District’s offices southwest of Jackson Avenue and Eagle Street. Being made of steel, they pose no real threat to the waterfowl that flock to the West Branch of the DuPage River.

The sculpture, officially christened “Best Friends,” was commissioned by some of the founders of the Naperville Area Humane Society to honor the 35th anniversary of the shelter’s arrival in the community. It was dedicated Sunday in a ceremony hosted by the Century Walk Corporation. Created by Massachusetts metal sculptor Dale Rogers, the creation is the 46th piece of public art the Century Walk has installed in Naperville since it was launched in 1996 to commemorate various slices of the community’s history.

“Best Friends” is a version of “American Dog,” Rogers’ trademark sculpture of a canine silhouette with a bone-shaped void in its torso — and this one has a feline in silhouette perched on its back.

“The profile of the dog is very much of a muttigree, but I have had many people tell me it looks exactly like their particular breed of dog,” Rogers writes on his website. “It strikes a strong emotional pull with many clients.”

Cleo Keller knows how animals can tug on heartstrings. One of the shelter’s organizers and original volunteers, Keller and NAHS founder Ardis McCallion are recognized on a plaque accompanying the new sculpture that describes the two women as “cut from the same farm-girl cloth.”

A Naperville resident since 1963, Keller is pleased with the newest addition to the Riverwalk and the Century Walk.

“It’s a beautiful setting,” she said. “The Century Walk did the setting for it … and of course it’s in a perfect location.”

Keller celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year, and her fondness for four-legged friends hasn’t waned a bit. Every Friday she can be found at the front desk of the society’s Diehl Road headquarters, the shelter’s home since 1988. The most senior of the agency’s volunteers, she is pleased with how far the shelter has come since 1979.

“It started out with just a few people and it’s amazing what they’ve done. It’s a magnificent organization. They do really good work, they do everything right,” she said. “I really can’t imagine anybody doing better than what they do there.”

Keller played a key role in the shelter’s origins. She was a member of The Sun’s advertising staff when McCallion placed a classified ad inviting animal lovers in the community to a meeting at her home. Harold White, the newspaper’s publisher at the time, urged Keller to go. The meeting began a long friendship between the two women and led to a regular “Pet of the Week” feature and frequent mention of the shelter in the “Sun Spots” column penned by Keller.

To this day she has a soft spot for all kinds of animals.

“I feed mice in my shed,” Keller admitted in a phone interview with The Sun this week, adding that while she’s willing to swat a fly or a mosquito that cross her path, “I try to catch anything else and take it outside if it’s in my house.”

The longtime friend to animals has no plans to stop helping out at the place that helps humans’ best friends.

“It’s terrific,” she said, “and I’m glad they put up with me.”