By Langley Cornwell
Dayna Hilton joined the fire service in 2000. In 2003, her rescued Dalmatian Sparkles gave her the idea to teach fire safety to children. Through the years, Dayna and her Fire Safety dogs have touched the lives of thousands of children nationwide and saved the lives of several. Additionally, she’s the Executive Director of the Keep Kids Fire Safe® Foundation and she’s authored three children’s books: Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog Coloring Book and Sparkles Goes to Boston.
I had the honor of ‘meeting’ Firefighter Dayna via chats and emails. You see, with Dayna, even if you don’t talk to her personally it feels like you know her. Her boundless energy, focused fire safety message, and undying devotion to her dogs are a magnetic combination. As a ‘one woman and two dog’ operation, she’s been able to accomplish so much. She and her dogs are passionate about what they do and have dedicated their lives to helping keep children safe. Here is an excerpt of our recent interview.
How did you find Sparkles?
I rescued her through the Dalmatian Assistance League of Tulsa. She came from a home overflowing with animals; Sparkles had been living in squalor with 62 other dogs.
What can you tell us about her background?
Aside from where she came from, I don’t know much about her background. What I do know is she was naturally great with children. Whenever kids approached she would roll around seeking belly rubs. One day we were playing and, just for fun, I wanted to see if she could crawl really low. She did it immediately, without any formal training. Crawling low is a crucial component of surviving a fire because it keeps your smoke inhalation to a minimum. When Sparkles began low-crawling on command, the idea for spreading a fire safety message to children was born.
Did Sparkles inspire the books?
Yes, totally. Sparkles had a tail that wagged non-stop; the only time her tail stopped wagging was when she slept. The idea for my first children’s fire safety book came from that tail! One day, Sparkles and I were getting ready to do a fire safety presentation at the school, and I put on her red vest, as I always did. That day was special though, as I looked at her and truly saw the love in her eyes. She couldn’t wait to get that vest on and go to work. I knew immediately that a children’s fire safety book was born!
Every day that Sparkles was in my life was a blessing. When I think about all of the lives she touched it’s overwhelming. Not only was she an amazing fire safety dog and a true credit to the fire service, she was a wonderful friend and companion.
From the time we met, Sparkles tried her best to make me happy. When I would leave the room, her ears would perk up and she would stand there, sometimes for hours, just waiting. Her love was unconditional.
Sparkles truly found her calling, and I am forever grateful she was in my life. When she passed away, I was heartbroken at losing my best friend, but I’m thankful that her legacy lives on, both through Tango and Siren, through “Sparkles’ Pathway” and through all the lives she has touched and will continue to touch. She was more than just my friend; she was a friend to millions of children. It is my hope that all the fire safety dogs that follow will share Sparkles’ passion for helping keep children safe, and we will continue to help save lives. Sparkles would have wanted it that way.
When did Tango and Siren come along?
Tango became a Fire Safety Dog in 2008 and learned everything he knows from Sparkles. Tango was given to me when he was 7 years old to help assist Sparkles in our fire safety program. At that time, Sparkles was getting older and we needed help from a younger dog because we were getting more requests to travel across the country to share the message. It was amazing to see how Tango stepped into Sparkles’ paw prints once she passed away. He became a completely different dog, as if he knew it was his turn to help make a difference and keep children safe.
Tango’s half-brother Siren has been teaching fire safety to children since he was 6 weeks old. Now one and a half, he loves showing boys and girls how to crawl low under smoke, “test” a smoke alarm and even “dial” 911. Siren is learning how to skateboard on his days off. And recently, we added a new Dalmation to our fire safety team!
I’ve got to ask, what do you feed your dogs?
Always and only CANIDAE! We switched to CANIDAE about a year ago, after noticing that our friends Surf Dog Ricochet and Emma Zen had the most beautiful coats. We visited with Emma Zen and found out that’s the food she ate. My dogs wanted to have bright, shiny and healthy coats just like their friends.
Prior to that, we were using another brand that we thought was healthy, but noticed corn was a major ingredient. Siren’s dog trainer believes that good nutrition is very important and he doesn’t like corn in dog foods. So we switched to CANIDAE and the dogs LOVE IT! Not only that, it keeps them healthy. We want them to be around for a long time because they have a lot of children to reach with the fire safety message! Someday, we hope the dogs can be ‘spokes dogs’ for CANIDAE. We truly believe in this food, and recommend it at every opportunity.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes, thank you so much! Here are some of our current projects (in no particular order).
Keep Kids Fire Safe Foundation
In 2009, we started the “Keep Kids Fire Safe Foundation” a public charity non-profit 501(c)(3). We rely on donations to help us sustain and enhance our fire safety programming.
Sparkles’ Safety Clubhouse
In 2011, First Alert built us “Sparkles’ Clubhouse.” In this building, we live stream our safety shows, both in and outside the building.
Daily Fire Safety Tips
Fire prevention is something that should be practiced daily. On January 1st, 2012, we started sharing daily fire safety tips on Facebook to help keep families and their pets safe. People say the Fire Safety Dog’s Facebook pages have changed how they feel about fire safety.
Sparkles Great American Quest for Fire Safe Kids program
The foundation recently received funding and will seek schools to participate in the program via Skype. We will teach basic fire safety skills to preschool and elementary children. In addition, students will be able to download a free copy of the e-book, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog’s Great American Quest for Fire Safe Kids.
All photos courtesy of Dayna Hilton
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.