While thousands of lost and abandoned pets have come and gone from the gates of the Denver Animal Shelter, there's one dog that hasn't budged an inch since arriving in 2011.

And the people who work and volunteer at the city-run shelter wouldn't have it any other way.

That "dog" — a gleaming 20-foot tall sculpture that looms over the shelter entrance — is a towering inspiration to everyone who sees it.

In fact, the statue dubbed "Sun Spot" can even be seen by passing motorists on Interstate 25, thanks in no small part to the 90,000 steel pet tags that cover its surface.

It all adds up to a bright beacon of hope for all who see it.

A beacon of hope — and a promise to help

A giant dog statue at the Denver Animal Shelter. 'Sun Spot' is actually one of three parts to the installation, which includes a massive hanging collar and a riverbank lined with pet tags. (Photo: Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan)

"'Sun Spot' is an inspiration to the staff at Denver Animal Protection and to the many visitors who visit the Denver Animal Shelter daily," explains Alice Nightengale, director of Denver Animal Protection, the city agency that runs the shelter. "Working in animal welfare can be incredibly rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time. We are proud of the work we do for Denver's animals and for our community, and that keeps us going."

But while the dog's head — bent ears and all — is the first thing visitors see at the shelter, there are actually two more equally epic components to the installation.

In the shelter lobby, a massive collar, some 6 feet in diameter, is suspended in the air. And that collar is adorned with an ever-growing collection of tags, etched with the names of adopted dogs.

And the third component? A boulevard of tags along the riverbank running past the shelter. Each of those tags identifies native plants — and also gives them pet names.

The big idea, according the creators of 'Sun Spot', Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan, is to link caring for animals with caring for the environment.

But with all those stainless steel pet tags covering its giant frame — from ear to tail — it's the dog that draws the biggest crowd.

Close-up showing the stainless steel pet tags covering dog statue All those stainless steel tags give 'Sun Spot' a particular shine to his coat. (Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)

The dog gives the impression that it's chasing the biggest, brightest prize of all: the sun. But LED bulbs also make "Sun Spot" shine at night, exchanging sun for moon — and giving the statue a sense of permanence.

"'Sun Spot' is a reminder to all that our organization is a safe haven, a place providing respite for the animals who need care, love and shelter, and a wealth of resources for humans wanting to help them," Nightengale adds. "Every year, the staff at Denver Animal Protection cares for over 7,000 lost, abandoned and injured pets, and we'll continue to do so, with 'Sun Spot' serving as a 'north star,' guiding those animals and people who need us to our doors."

Indeed, "Sun Spot" is more than just an inspiration to humans; it's a symbol of hope for the anxious, frightened, heartbroken animals who wash up there.

And like that iconic statue that stands tall in New York Harbor, it offers a world of hope to new arrivals.

Although the Denver Animal Shelter is a municipal shelter, it relies heavily on donations for treating and fostering the thousands of animals that arrive here every year. You can support those efforts by making a donation here, and then see "Sun Spot" come into existence in the video below.

When people and pets at this shelter need inspiration, all they have to do is look up
A shiny, 20-foot tall dog lets new arrivals at a Denver animal shelter know they're in a good place.