By Natalie Hayes
CHICAGO (CBS)—A stroll down Michigan Avenue this week looks a little different thanks to an art campaign honoring police canines.
Splashed with a rainbow of vibrant colors and inscribed with various messages–some paying tribute to fallen first responders–the stately-looking ceramic dogs pay homage to the 70 canines in the Chicago Police Department K9 Unit.
The display of 50 hand-painted police canines will be posted along the Magnificent Mile through Sept. 30. Afterward, the sculptures will be auctioned off online, with the proceeds supporting the families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Last year—the first year of the “Chicago K9s for Cops” campaign—proceeds totaled more than $300,000, according to Bridget Schuda, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.
The online auction drew national attention, with buyers from across the country bidding on the sculptures, she said.
“The whole reason we decided to do it again this year is because of the love and support we received last year,” Schuda said. “I think it sheds a good light on the (foundation’s) work to support our police families.”
Each statue was hand-painted by a volunteer artist—some of them police officers, including Officer Antoinette Alcazar, who designed and painted four statues last year and another three this year.
Alcazar started painting nearly 20 years ago to relieve stress when her daughter was sick, she said.
“I found that it feels good to put things on paper,” Alcazar said. “Last year I found (the project) to be a very exciting, thrilling experience because they money goes to a good cause.”
Each statue takes on a different persona, thanks to the dozens of artists who worked with the mix of public and private sponsors who paid for the materials and other costs involved in bringing the art exhibit to fruition.
All the dog statues share one thing in common, however—they make for great selfies.
Just ask Mathew Kolawole, who stopped by the CTA-themed canines to snap photos with his young daughter Ivy this week.
“They look like the pigs—or the cows—that used to be here,” Kolawole said as Ivy tried to climb on top of the statue.
For longtime Chicagoans, the canine art installment will likely trigger memories of the “Cows on Parade” art phenomenon that graced the Magnificent Mile starting in 1999. After the colorful cows debuted on Michigan Avenue, similar “cow parades” spread to more than 50 countries around the world, according to Chicago Traveler.
In 2014 and 2015, the “Horses on Parade” art installment featured 60 hand-painted horses that graced Chicago’s Streeterville area.
For Chicago police officers, the bond they share with police animals feels more like family. The canine art encapsulates that love.
“They’re dogs, so they’re a man’s best friend—but (to police officers) they’re also people,” Schuda said.