Hub City Animal Project has announced the reveal of a bronze statue of Chaser, the world’s smartest dog, on Morgan Square in downtown Spartanburg.
The reveal event for the public, permanent statue was held in early May. Chaser the Border Collie had the largest vocabulary of any nonhuman animal and is known as “the dog who knows 1,000 words.” She was also a Spartanburg native. Chaser passed away in 2019 at the age of 15.
In 2004, when Dr. John W. Pilley, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Wofford College, got two-month-old Chaser as a gift from his wife Sally, he wanted to explore the boundaries of the canine mind and delve deeper into the communication between humans and man’s best friend. He set his eye on teaching Chaser human language and discovered that her capacity to learn was beyond his wildest dreams. She mastered the names of more than a thousand toys which would later be incorporated into sentences with multiple elements of grammar.
But at 80 years of age, John knew that if he had a shot at getting his findings published in a peer-reviewed journal, he would need help. So, he reached out to his long-time friend and esteemed colleague, Dr. Alliston K. Reid. As a Reeves Family Professor of Psychology at Wofford, Alliston had extensive experience in the world of scientific journalism and accepted this arduous challenge. He knew that Dr. Pilley’s data was so groundbreaking that they had to devise a rigorous method for testing Chaser that would hold up to powerful, stringent peer review. It would not be easy.
But they did it. In late December 2010, their work was published by the Elsevier journal Behavioural Processes, which went globally viral in over 72 languages – taking not only the canine cognition world by storm but ringing the bell loudly for dog owners all over the world with empirical, scientific evidence that dogs are not only as smart as we think, but capable of so much more. Since 2011 their story has been featured in hundreds of publications such as TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Scientific American, and on television programs like 60 Minutes, Nova ScienceNOW, ABC World News, and The Today Show. Dr. Pilley also penned a New York Times best-selling book with writer Hilary Hinzmann called Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows 1000 words. Dr. Pilley passed away in 2018.
Hub City Animal Project, a Spartanburg organization focused on reducing shelter intake, expanding spay/neuter programs, and educating children and families on proper animal care, with the blessing of the Pilley family, sought to bring a statue of Chaser to downtown Spartanburg. The statue will highlight the importance of learning through play and shed light on the serious problem of animal homelessness in Spartanburg County.
“In addition to honoring Chaser and Dr. Pilley, this statue is a visual reminder of Chaser’s love of play and how her unique source of learning has proved to be groundbreaking and inspiring – something we want to share with our community,” said Lora Hodge of Hub City Animal Project. “Through this statue, we hope to show how Dr. Pilley’s teaching method with Chaser can not only deepen our relationship with dogs but can also translate into human education.” Hodge thanked the Pilley family, statue donors, and Monty Mullen of The Balmer Foundation, an organization helping to underwrite the Chaser statue.
Dr. Pilley’s daughter, Deb Pilley Bianchi, said: “This statue and footprints are not just a memorial, they are a legacy. My dad worked with Chaser for the last 13 years of his life. He taught her the names of over one thousand objects, which were her toys, but also the names of people, places, nouns, verbs, and more. The beauty was in the simplicity and methodology my father used, which included play. We have our own definition of genius, and that is giving birth to one’s joy. This is how my dad lived his life and how he worked with Chaser. Dad’s greatest hope was that researchers would pick up where he left off, and that humans would have a greater understanding of dogs and the natural world. That dream is becoming a reality.” Pilley Bianchi encouraged attendees to “channel their inner dog” and emanate the canine qualities of love, kindness, forgiveness, devotion, and innate joy.
Pilley Bianchi also announced the launch of the Chaser Initiative, an organization dedicated to educating children K-12 about the power of play-based training, the importance of Dr. John W. Pilley and Chaser’s legacy, and how it applies to their own lives.
Dr. Alliston K. Reid, Professor of Psychology at Wofford, also spoke about the importance of his scientific work with Dr. Pilley and Chaser and how greatly both are missed.
William Gray with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture spoke on behalf of OneSpartanburg, Inc. “Thank you to the Hub City Animal Project, the Pilley family, and the Balmer Foundation for this incredible gift to Spartanburg,” Gray said. “We all know that we have a unique downtown, and this statue is another wonderful attribute. We encourage locals and visitors alike to come downtown, learn about Chaser, step in Dr. Pilley’s footprints, and enjoy Spartanburg.” Gray serves on the Executive Board at OneSpartanburg, Inc. and is the Vice Chair of the Downtown Development Partnership (an initiative of OneSpartanburg, Inc.).
Betsy Scott of Cloudland, Georgia, was commissioned to create the statue. Scott has earned recognition as one of America’s most respected wildlife sculptors and is the co-creator of the Wofford College Terrier, a 1,000-pound statue located at the entrance of the Campus Life Building.
Prepared by Hub City Animal Project.