PALM HARBOR — Two dozen mourners — and six dogs — paid their respects Thursday at a solemn memorial for Jingles, the white pooch that died 10 days after he was badly injured when his home exploded and burned.
Most of them never knew him.
"I just love animals so much,'' said Sheri Peters, who lives in an RV park in Dunedin. "When I saw (Duane Cole) on TV he was crying so much. He was such a dog lover … it made me cry. I thought, I'm going to tell this man I'm a dog lover, too.''
Cole owned the American Eskimo, which suffered head trauma and burns after the Dunedin house they shared exploded Feb. 11. The blast is still under investigation.
Keenan Knopke, president and chief executive of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, offered Cole the plot and marker in its pet section for whatever Cole can pay.
"Jingles took on more of a life after the accident,'' Knopke said. "He needed to come back to the community.''
On Thursday, Jingles' body lay in a cream-colored casket in a small white pavilion surrounded by chairs. On top of his casket was a bouquet of red roses.
Among the mourners was Dr. Elizabeth Baird, the veterinarian who heard the blast in her nearby home and ran barefoot down the street to help.
"I didn't have the fortune of knowing Jingles in life, but I sensed his spirit,'' she said.
Surrounded by family, Cole, who was wearing a dark suit, said he was thankful to the people of Tampa Bay for the support and love they showed Jingles. He said he had the dog for eight years and the two were very close.
"He was just the most miraculous dog I've ever had,'' Cole said. "We had this special bond. We would look into each other's eyes and it was like we could talk to each other.''
Rick Chaboudy, executive director and co-founder of the Suncoast Animal League, took Jingles to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa on the day of the explosion. "The story didn't end as we hoped,'' he said, but "his legacy will go on forever.''
"Jingles inspired a community to buy animal oxygen masks,'' he said. "His life will live on in the other animals who are saved.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.