GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With his legs folded, sitting on the cold concrete of the LaGrave Fire Station in downtown Grand Rapids, Axel’s eyes jump to anything that moves. He’s already more than four hours into his workday and it’s not even 10:30 a.m.
At the firehouse, everybody knows his name and lights up when they see him. He embodies new meaning for what firefighters are called to do: rescue.
Having him at the fire station was a priority for Grand Rapids Fire Department Chief John Lehman and a tradition that dates back hundreds of years to horse-drawn fire carriages.
“The idea was to kind of bring a little bit of that tradition to the Grand Rapids Fire Department and have a mascot and also rescue a dog at the same time,” Lehman said.
Axel is just over 2 years old and all puppy at heart. Though he may not wear the badge of the chief, it doesn’t take too long to see who’s in charge when Axel’s on duty.
“He probably goes for about 15 walks a day,” Lehman said. “He’s got a little doorbell upstairs that he jingles whenever he wants to go out. And he does that pretty much about 15 times a day.”
While Axel fulfills the tradition of a firehouse dog, he has also assumed a key role that wasn’t necessarily the original purpose: He’s a comfort to the firefighters.
“It wasn’t intended for him to be a therapy dog by any means but as he went through this last year of COVID with everybody else, he truly did become that for a lot of the people around,” Lehman said of Axel’s time in the city’s Emergency Operations Center. “He definitely proved to be a positive distraction for people when they needed it.”
Lehman said he wants the community to know that Axel is a smart, kind, approachable dog who is widely accepted as part of the city’s team. If he’s not busy chasing down treats or chew toys or ringing his bell for a walk, you’ll likely find him sitting his way on the concrete of LaGrave — legs crossed, enjoying life as the Grand Rapids firedog.
“It’s a way for us to connect with people that appreciate animals,” Lehman said. “And support the cause of the rescue missions for, uh, for animals.”
If you’re looking for a lovable companion like Axel, help WOOD TV8 and NBC Clear the Shelters now through Sept. 19. Find the information here about participating shelters near you where you can adopt or donate, with 100% of your donations going to the shelter you choose.