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Serviceman's best friend continues to serve in retirement

GREENVILLE — He’s jumped out of airplanes. He’s sniffed out explosives. He’s protected his human comrades in arms.

Now, Staff Sgt. Agbar is an ambassador for his breed, who loves belly rubs and perks with excitement at the sound of the Star Spangled Banner.

The 10-year old Belgian malinois, adopted by a Kinston family in 2014 after three tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, spent a recent Saturday afternoon at Pet Supplies Plus on Criswell Drive in Greenville to visit with customers and help the store’s program to support retired military service dogs like him.

Agbar served as a bomb dog with the 101st Airborne Division. During his time with the 101st, Agbar and his handler jumped from aircraft into hot zones around the country.

Agbar and other multi-purpose canines (MPC’s) work with military personnel to sniff out explosives, such as improvised explosive devices (IED’s), leading to their eventual disarmament or destruction.

The dogs also help protect human soldiers and hunt down threats, as demonstrated on Oct. 27 when a service dog reportedly named Conan was wounded as he chased after the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The dog was slightly injured by live electrical wires that were exposed after al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, according to reports. The Pentagon says the dog has since returned to duty.

Agbar, who was adopted by Brittany Heath and her husband Wayne, saw his share of combat, Heath said.

“In 2014, 273 dogs came home from overseas,” Heath said. “Handlers got first choice, then law enforcement got their pick and then it was open to civilians.”

Agbar is big for his breed, and he was tested for service as a police dog, Heath said, explaining that he was not suited for police work. “He just isn’t a biting dog, he is strictly a bomb dog. They tried, but it just wasn’t his temperament.”

Over 2,500 MPC’s are currently in active duty, with 750 currently deployed overseas, according to the Oklahoma Humane Society.

On his first night of retirement Agbar made a move that surprised Heath and proved just how loyal he would be to his new family.

“My daughter slipped and fell down the stairs,” Heath said. “I saw Agbar jump off the couch ... and grab her by the shirt and pull her away. That’s what they are trained to do to help soldiers. I just started crying and called my husband and said, ‘You won’t believe this.’ ”

The American Kennel Club describes the Belgian Malinois as a confident, smart, loyal, and hard-working breed of dog, all qualities Agbar exuded during his service. Now however, Agbar enjoys his days laying on the couch, relaxing and playing with his favorite chew toys while eating leftover food. He does however still fight through issues due to his time overseas. Heath explained how Agbar suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“He’s still so eager to work today,” Heath said. “He wants to work all the time. If he sees a uniform, his chest puffs out and he thinks it’s time to go, but it’s like a light switch for him, he can turn it on and off. He suffers from PTSD, so low flying aircraft, the EastCare helicopters, fireworks, things like that affect him.”

With everything Agbar has done and accomplished there is still one specific thing that make Agbar so special.

Agbar’s field trip also benefited other animals, thanks to Pet Supplies Plus, manager James Dickson and his staff. As Agbar perused the many treats, toys and items in the store Dickson kept tabs. Some of Agbar’s choices will be donated to animal shelters and military canine organizations.

“We’re very military oriented here,” Dickson said. “We appreciate all of the work, efforts and sacrifices they make alongside the troops. We let him sniff around and see what he likes and set up a donation drive based on his preferences.”

It was not the first, nor the last time Agbar will make a public appearance. Marie Floyd, CEO, founder and event organizer of Supporting our Troops and Heroes, features Agbar and other MPC’s at her annual Christmas dinner each December.

“It’s for troops that are local, can’t go home, veterans and wounded warriors,” Floyd said.

Agbar’s presence is always a talking point at the event, as he brings joy to others, Floyd said.

“It’s the most wonderful gift (I can receive),” Floyd said of the responses from those who attend her dinner. “It’s a healing thing for me. I’m fighting cancer, and when I can make somebody happy, our military, first responders and especially Staff Sgt. Agbar, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”


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Director of UNCG's Weatherspoon Art Museum to retire

GREENSBORO — Nancy Doll will retire next summer as director of UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum.

Doll will step down on July 31, 2020, after 22 years of service.

“It seems like the time for a change, both for me and the museum,” Doll said. “It has been a great run. I am incredibly grateful for all of the support and friendship I have had all these years.”

A national search for Doll’s successor will begin soon, UNCG Provost Dana Dunn said in the announcement.

“We will miss Nancy’s strong leadership, wise counsel and collegial style,” Dunn said.

Founded in 1941 by Gregory Ivy, first head of the Art Department at Woman’s College (now UNCG), the Weatherspoon has grown from a university teaching gallery to a fully professional museum that is nationally recognized for its collections and exhibition program.

It is located at Tate and Spring Garden streets on the UNCG campus.

From its inception, the museum has focused on building a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art that is now considered one of the best in the Southeast.

Numbering close to 7,000 works, its collection represents all major art movements from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

Alexander Calder, Elizabeth Catlett, Nick Cave, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Enrique Chagoya, Willem de Kooning, Eva Hesse, Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei are just a few of the major artists represented.

Other highlights include the Dillard Collection of Art on Paper, the Etta and Claribel Cone Collection, and the Lenoir C. Wright Collection of Japanese Prints.

Non-student attendance has also grown steadily, reaching more than 38,000 annual visitors.

“Under Nancy’s outstanding leadership,” Dunn wrote, “the Weatherspoon’s collection has continued to be known and highly regarded on a global scale, as indicated by the growing number of loan requests we receive from major museums in this country and abroad.”

Doll has raised money from individuals, corporations, and foundations to advance the mission of the Weatherspoon. Supporters have included the National Endowment for the Arts, North Carolina Arts Council, Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, Cemala Foundation, Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, Deluxe Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Working with the curatorial staff, Doll has led the charge to diversify collections, exhibitions and programs to include more artists of color and women artists, Dunn said.

Doll was instrumental in marshalling the Weatherspoon through two successful reaccreditation reviews by the American Alliance of Museums.

She came to Greensboro from Santa Barbara, Calif., where she was executive director of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum.

She also served as curator of 20th century art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; director of Gallery Eleven and curator of the University Art Collection at Tufts University in Massachusetts; and director of the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College in New Hampshire.