Niagara County will soon be able to claim the distinction of being the first of its kind to nominate a canine chief of staff, host a red, white and blue pet parade and decide, once and for all, just whose furry (or feathery, or scaly) companion is the most patriotic, thanks to the SPCA of Niagara County.
The slew of events is part of the SPCA's Hounds for Heroes celebration, a new, free event this summer that combines the Hound Hike and Dog Days of Summer, held in previous years, to create something bigger and better. It will be held July 11 on the shelter grounds, 2100 Lockport Road.
The event was spun out of the SPCA's Dog Tags Niagara program, run by veterans, for veterans, as a sort of therapeutic exercise.
"We pair up veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (who have) some issues, PTSD or injuries, (and) we hook them up with some of our most 'deemed unadoptable' dogs and a trainer and everyone gets well," SPCA Director of Development Polla Milligan said.
Though the event benefits the SPCA, she said the group also wanted to shine a spotlight on local veterans, some of whom are actively involved in organizing Hounds and Heroes.
"We want to show that we are not only a part of the community, but we support the community. We do also want to give back," Milligan said. "So this is our first event where we're giving back, and we're giving back to first responders and also to veterans. It's really important for us to do that. We don't just want to be there all the time with our handout, expecting donations. We also want to return the favor."
Hamlet, pictured, lives with a veteran who takes part in the Dog Tags Niagara program. (Photo by Joe Ruszala, courtesy of the SPCA of Niagara County)
In keeping with that theme, the day's events will include a tribute to first responders, an American Red Cross bloodmobile on site and demonstrations by the Niagara County mounted and K-9 sheriffs.
There also will be a parade led by Dog Tags participants; State Sen. Rob Ortt, also a veteran; and WGRZ's Adam Benigni, whose brother is a veteran, with his recently adopted dog. Visitors are encouraged to dress their pets up in red, white and blue to participate.
The stars and stripes are a recurring theme in the event Milligan said was "everything American."
In addition to the parade and aforementioned patriotic pet contest, visitors will vote for shelter cats and dogs to be named president, vice president and secretary of state for their respective species. Those animals' photos will hang in the SPCA's lobby until next summer, when a new round of pet politicians will be elected.
Plus, it doesn't get more American than an apple-pie-baking contest. Unless, of course, you follow it up with an apple-pie-eating contest, which the SPCA fully intends to do.
Other patriotic presentations include Zumba dancers in red, white and blue performing in the afternoon, a classic car and motorcycle show and a motorcycle run organized by Hogs and Heroes.
Registration for the auto show begins at 10 a.m. and costs $5, with the first 50 participants awarded a plaque for their cars. The motorcycle run begins at 9:30 a.m. Participants will ride to Olcott Beach and have breakfast before heading back to the SPCA around the end of the parade.
Throughout the day, there will be live music, a Chiavetta's chicken barbecue and vendors selling hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, ice cream and fried dough. There will be games, face-painting and clowns for children.
"It's just going to be this carnival kind of fun, wonderful day, all to benefit the SPCA," Milligan said.
The event will take place rain or shine. The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has supplied tents for use in case of showers.
The event is free to attend, though visitors are asked to bring a jar of peanut butter as a donation. The peanut butter is frozen into treats for the shelter's animals. Brand does not matter, though creamy is preferred.