By Glenn Himebaugh
Butte is going to the dogs.
And Holly Peterson, a professor of environmental engineering at Montana Tech of the University of Montana couldn’t be happier.
“Dogs” isn’t really accurate; this is a one-dog story. The hero is a shaggy sheepdog named Auditor who survived 17 years in the toxic neighborhood of the Berkeley Pit before dying in November 2003. Few of the 40,000 people who visit the Pit each year to marvel at the poisonous waterhole — the relics of the world’s largest open-pit copper mine — were aware of Auditor living amid the 5,000-acre Superfund site. Auditor, you see, was a dreadlocked loner.
Dumped at the Pit’s viewing stand as a puppy in 1986, he earned his name by periodically disappearing, sometimes for weeks, then surprising miners by reappearing. The workers at Montana Resources, the mine’s owner, adopted the dog and built a house for him. They even brought him food. Now, Peterson, 46, hopes it won’t be long before locals and tourists spot bronze sculptures and, eventually, temporary fiberglass figures of Auditor all over Butte.
“I want to honor the dog and miners who cared for him for almost two decades,” Peterson says. “I want to spread his special story through beautiful sculpture in Butte to be enjoyed by local children and adults. I also want to develop his character into a moniker for environmental health and education.”
“And,” she adds, “I want to improve the economy of Butte by giving tourists a fun new reason to visit the city. People who come here now are mainly mining, architecture or history buffs. Auditor is certain to attract a completely new part of the population—compassionate animal lovers.”
Auditor has even shaped Peterson’s research.
In May 2003 she had compared hair samples of 15 Butte dogs with others from Bozeman. “It became very obvious that Butte dogs were chronically exposed to much higher levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium than Bozeman dogs,” she says. “It spurred my interest to learn more. I couldn’t help but wonder what a hair sample from Auditor would show.”
With the blessings of Montana Resources former president Steve Walsh, she was taken to Auditor’s dog house by employee Ron Benton in July 2003 to collect the sample. “It was a warm summer afternoon,” she remembers, “and it felt like we were driving through the Iraqi desert or a Martian landscape to reach the hand-made dog house located in the middle of the mine site.” Auditor was resting when they arrived. She gave him a Milk-Bone and snipped some hair to send to the Montana Tech lab for testing.
“The report indicated elevated levels of everything imaginable,” the professor says. To date, she has sampled more than 400 dogs with the help of her graduate students at UM/Butte. She hopes to use the data they’ve collected to develop a new method of using domestic pets as ways to evaluate health risks in the environment.
Auditor is also being remembered through several large sculptures around Butte.
One sculpture is permanently installed in the Butte Plaza Mall at 3100 Harrison Avenue. The artist was Andrea
Wilkinson of Kingwood, Texas, and the piece was commissioned by Los Angeles residents Melinda and Tom Peters. The two-tiered granite base was designed, shaped and sandblasted by Dave Elmore of Missoula (owner
of Trevillion-Johnson Memorial Co. in Butte and Western Montana
Monument Services in Missoula). The third bronze sculpture of Auditor is at the Broadway Cafe at 300 E. Broadway in uptown Butte. Bryan Ross of Sagle, Idaho, was the sculptor.
“There is no better way to tell a story than through art, and I love how each of the three artists depicted Auditor very differently,” Peterson says.
A 300-pound sculpture in honor of Auditor will be moved to the Berkeley Pit viewing stand after landscaping of that area is completed in 2006.
To help fund the sculptures, Peterson established The Auditor Foundation as a non-profit organization that sells an “autobiography” of Auditor and a variety of merchandise bearing his likeness. Items range from T-shirts and mouse pads to travel mugs and key chains, even soap. “This project was completely inspired by Auditor and my amazement that he could survive under the conditions he did,” she says. “It’s coming along slowly but surely.”
Peterson has lined up professional artists to make additional bronzes, but she asked Don Watts, a self-taught sculptor and Montana Resources employee in Butte, to do the initial one. He relied on his memory of the dog to create the sculpture. The second bronze is under construction and will be placed at a Butte shopping center.
Fundraising remains Peterson’s major challenge. “I have days when I imagine receiving a $100,000 check from some wealthy philanthropist or movie star who is touched by Auditor,” she says.
On the Web: www.mtech.edu/ee/holly/