Community rallies to support family who lost dogs, possessions in fire

NORWICH – On April 22, 2014, a house fire left Environmental Conservation Officer Brett Armstrong and his family not only without their home, but in the fire, three dogs were lost – two trained K-9s and the Armstrong’s family dog. The community has rallied together to support the family, and a benefit has been set for noon on Saturday, May 24, at the Norwich Fire Department.

“Brett has done a tremendous amount for the community, and it’s great to see the community show him and his family the support they need,” said organizer Thomas Miller (a Norwich Police Officer and New Berlin K-9 Officer). “It was probably 8 years ago when I saw him (Armstrong) do a K-9 demonstration, and it’s what peaked my interest in the field.”

Miller said Armstrong had been doing K-9 demonstrations for children and families at events in the area for eight years. Demonstration locations included the Chenango County Fair, Wolf Mountain Nature Center, Rogers Conservation Center’s Winter Fest, and the Chenango County Sheriff’s Camp.

“We’re supposed to be all a community, here to help each other out and work together in times of need,” said Miller, when asked what prompted him to organize a fundraiser. “I know he would do the same thing.”

Armstrong’s ten-year-old K-9 Nitro, two-year-old K-9 Hawk, and the family’s chocolate lab, Shadow, were all lost in the fire. The home was deemed a total loss, and most of the family’s belongings were destroyed in the electrical fire.

“Rebuilding their lives after something like this will take a while,” said Miller. “While the family has insurance, there is a lot that can’t be replaced. Brett, his wife, and two young daughters have to start from scratch.”

The benefit is set for noon to 4 p.m., May 24, at 31 East Main St. at the Norwich Fire Department. Entertainment is set to be provided by Frankie G’s Porta Party DJ Service and Jes Sheldon.

Sheldon, a local vocalist and winner of CNY’s Radio Idol in 2010, said she met Armstrong and Nitro a few years ago at the Wolf Mountain Nature Center, and she was more than willing to donate her time.

Area businesses have donated baskets and gift certificates for a Chinese Auction that is set to take place. Businesses include but are not limited to Rentals to Go, New York Pizzeria, Denny’s Liquors, BlueOx, Tops, The Hampton Inn in Oneonta, Denny’s Restaurant, The Ontario Hotel, and D’Abbraccio’s Pizza.

The Norwich Police Benevolent Association has donated $150 in support of the family. The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and Cortland Police Department were contacted and said they would be willing to assist in any way they are able.

Norwich Fire Chief Tracy Chawgo was more than willing to assist and offer the use of the Firehouse, said Miller.

Police K-9 teams, as well as police, fire and EMS vehicles will be on site from surrounding areas for demonstrations and photographs with children.

Food and beverages will be available, and all proceeds will go to the Armstrong family.

“He is a great guy, he has helped out children and families all throughout out the community,” said Miller. “It’s nice to see individuals and businesses so willing to lend a hand when someone is struggling. That’s what community is all about.”

The event is sponsored by the Souther Tier K-9 Association, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization (

All questions, or those interesting in supporting the cause to assist the Armstrong family, can contact Thomas Miller at 316-0922 or via email at

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