A local event to honor servicemen and women and first-responders is set to take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 25, as the SPCA of Niagara hosts its annual "Hounds & Heroes" fundraiser at Reservoir State Park.
"Basically, it's our way to (pay) tribute (to) veterans, first-responders and people who are animal heroes - whether they are attached to our shelter or they're just out there," said Polla Milligan, director of development and marketing at SPCA of Niagara.
"The day basically is devoted to red, white and blue. So we have a lot of events and things going on ... that involve things that people sort of associate with things all-American," she added. "One of the things, is (we do a) tribute to veterans from our stage. We announce that there are veterans here and we would like to honor you. We also do this with first-responders."
One of the event's main activities includes its new "Hound Hike," which will take place on the park's 1.1-mile walking path.
Milligan said, last year, the event featured a parade, which took place on the shelter's grounds at 2100 Lockport Road. However, the new location's "clear-cut path" will allow it to host a hike, which, in the past, has been "extremely successful," at other events Milligan said. State Sen. Robert Ortt, will officiate the "Hound Hike," "because he himself is a veteran," she added.
The Niagara County Mounted Sheriffs will then lead the hike, directing participants and their pets along the path.
"Hound Hike" registration begins at 11 a.m. Individual registration prior to the event is $15. The price increases to $20 the day of the event. Participants can work to obtain pledges for prizes available the day of the event. Everyone who registers receives a goodie bag, a bandana for a pup, and a bottle of water.
To add to the "all-American" theme, Milligan said, "People (can) bring their animals dressed in red, white and blue, because, later on, we have a (patriotic) pet costume contest." Winners of the contest will be announced at 1:30 p.m.
In addition, at 1:45 p.m., a pie-eating contest will take place, which is going to be judged by many of the Niagara County clerks.
Some of the pie-eating participants include veterans and DJs from WYRK.
The event will also host a classic car and motorcycle show, live music, a 50/50 raffle, food and activities.
Focused around family-friendly activities, kids can enjoy a sack race, a clothing relay contest, clowns, a fire prevention vehicle with Sparky the Fire Dog robot, hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks.
In addition to these offerings, on display throughout the event will be Steel Crazy Iron Art's 9/11 "Standing Tall" sculpture, a 7-foot stainless steel memorial with victims names.
"A lot of people were very, very taken with that last year," Milligan said.
There will also be a few information tables set up, including one by Dog Tags New York, a program that pairs rescue dogs with returning veterans in need of assistance and companionship.
Veterans, alongside their pets, will be on hand to answer questions and get the word out about the program, which also provides professional dog training and funding.
"We will be there Saturday morning in full force," said Dog Tags New York Program Coordinator Suzy Alexander.
The program has spread across the state over the past three years, after getting its start at the SPCA of Niagara.
Mike Shanley of Grand Island, a veteran who has volunteered at SPCA of Niagara and who helped found the Dog Tags New York program, said events, such as Hounds & Heroes, can attract veterans who may be shy about working within the Veterans Administration. The dogs can serve as "an icebreaker" for them to get some help.
"I've seen guys ... go through veterans court, link up with Dog Tags, and I've seen Dog Tags transform their lives," Shanley said.
Rein Butterworth of North Tonawanda is a disabled veteran who has benefited from the program. He will help tend the booth at the event. He said his goal at the event is to "just to let guys know that there's resources out there. That they're not alone. ... You're not fighting alone."
All proceeds from "Hounds & Heroes" will benefit the SPCA of Niagara, and Milligan said, "Everybody is donating their time."
She said, "We are the only SPCA that's no-kill in the whole area. ... It's really a labor of love that we have made this commitment. But that's why we need so much help."
For more information, call 716-731-4368 or visit www.niagaraspca.org/houndsandheroes.html.