If you’re traveling on Duck Pond Drive near Virginia Tech’s new roundabout, you’ll notice a new friend baying his welcome from the veterinary college grove.
The “Shilo” howling beagle statue — unveiled and dedicated on Sept. 28 — now adorns the lawn in front of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. A generous gift from veterinarian Mark P. Helfat and Mendy Helfat, owners of the Larchmont Animal Hospital in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, the artwork is named in honor of the Helfats’ own beagle, Shilo, and donated in memory of Mark Helfat’s dog-loving parents, Lucile and Bernard Helfat.
The dedication ceremony was attended by several hundred members of the college community and guests, and included a welcome from Gregory Daniel, interim dean of the veterinary college, followed by special remarks from Cyril Clarke, Virginia Tech’s interim executive vice president and provost and former dean of the veterinary college, as well as Mark Helfat.
Held in conjunction with the annual mentor workshop hosted by the Virginia and Maryland Veterinary Medical Associations, the ceremony was followed by a luncheon where the Helfats and “Shilo” sculptor Jim Sardonis joined students, staff, faculty, alumni, veterinary practitioners, and guests to enjoy camaraderie and the early autumn weather.
“Among the many people I have to thank for making all of this happen is a notable person — Dr. Clarke,” said Helfat. “We were talking one day and I shared my vision to fund this project, but I hadn’t found the right place and he simply said, ‘I have the right place.’”
Helfat’s long-standing dream of commissioning the beagle statue was realized two years ago after the conversation he had with Clarke. The two connected while serving in their former roles with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) — Helfat as chair of the AVMA Board of Directors and Clarke as a member of the AVMA Council on Education.
“Dr. Mark Helfat is an experienced veterinarian and a successful practitioner, and he models the commitment that veterinarians have to the profession, as he has for many years, through his service as our representative to the AVMA,” said Clarke. “With this installation, we have an opportunity to recognize Dr. Helfat and his commitment to our profession, which has been significant, and also to honor his parents in a special way.”
Mark Helfat’s love for the beagle breed started during his time as a veterinary student at Cornell. “My wife Mendy brought home our first beagle named Bingo years and years ago,” said Helfat. “Since that time, we’ve rescued a beagle Bassett mix named Rosie and we got a champion show dog, Simply Irresistible Giselle. And then we welcomed another show dog — his name is Shilo — and another one named Cossette.”
Sculpted by Vermont artist Jim Sardonis — a friend and former prep school classmate of Helfat — and cast in bronze by Glenn Campbell of Campbell Plaster and Iron Foundry in Rutland, Vermont, the sculpture took 18 months to complete, from commission to delivery. It is the third permanent public art installation on the college’s grounds.
Measuring approximately 6 feet high from ground to nose and 6 feet long from chest to tail, the bronze sculpture is now situated in the grove of trees in front of the college complex. Adjacent lighting helps to display the work at night, and a small bronze plaque commemorates the donor and artist.
“We are grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Helfat for their generous gift — a signature presence on our campus that will be enjoyed by members of our college community, hospital clients, and the public,” said Daniel. “I also want to thank Mr. Sardonis for creating this fantastic sculpture, which joins our two other notable statues.”
The other two works include “Running Together,” a life-size bronze statue featuring a horse, a dog, and a veterinary student, sculpted by Kentucky artist Gwen Reardon and dedicated in 2005 as part of the college’s 25th Anniversary Celebration; and the Virginia Law Enforcement K-9 Memorial, a life-size bronze German Shepherd police dog sculpted by Blacksburg artist Larry Bechtel and dedicated in 2009.
“It is indeed a great honor to point out that the veterinary college is a leader in terms of the diversity of public art expression that we have here on the Virginia Tech campus,” said Clarke.
“We love the ‘Shilo’ statue and his digs in the grove. The ceremony is engraved in our souls as well,” said Helfat. “Let’s enjoy this artwork for years to come.”