Program assists veterans with rescue animals
By David Yarger
Veterans Memorial Park, 7000 Lockport Road, Town of Niagara, will play host to an event that fits the park's "veteran" name. Niagara Rises is having a fundraiser to benefit the group Dog Tags of New York, from noon-8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Town Supervisor Lee Wallace was thrilled for the town to be hosting the event.
"The Town of Niagara is a huge supporter of our veterans and the extreme sacrifices many have made to protect the freedoms that we enjoy today," he said. "It is our privilege to host this outstanding event and we hope that it will continue at our Veterans Memorial Community Park for years to come."
The event, titled "Tails, Troops & Tunes," will feature live music from Seventh Sign, information and product vendors, a flag ceremony featuring the 914th Air Refueling Wing Color Guard and Grammy nominated Christina Custode singing the national anthem, food trucks, Certo Brothers beverages, raffles, 50/50's, a dog kissing booth, dog obedience demonstration and a dog pageant with 12 categories. Pre-registration for the pageant costs $10 per category and can be done at www.NiagaraRises.us, while day of registration costs $15 per category.
Niagara Rises is a non-profit organization that supports and helps citizens and organizations around Niagara County. Dog Tags of New York's mission is to partner a rescue dog with a local veteran or civilian, as the animal builds "purpose, trust and camaraderie while aiding in transition and adjustment."
Co-founder of Dog Tags of New York, Joe Ruszala said Niagara Rises reached out to collaborate with the organization. He said he welcomed them with open arms and asked what he could do to assist them.
"They reached out to us and said they wanted to do something to make an impact and veterans and dogs strike the heart," he said.
Ruszala added the collaboration has been terrific saying, "They're great people. They're a determined group and it'll be cool for us to see civilians wanting to give back to this cause."
Niagara Rises Secretary Danielle Bevacqua and President Daniel Rey said they were sold the minute they met the people of Dog Tags of New York.
"Everyone on the board came in with ideas and Becky Marchetti, our treasurer, had heard of the group. They came to the meeting and our group was sold immediately. Their presentation and their story was incredible," Bevacqua said.
"As soon as they brought the dogs in and as soon as we met them, we were sold," Rey said. "We agreed quickly that we'd work with them and we hope people take the time to see what's going on."
Ruszala said the Dog Tags program focuses on transition and adjustment for veterans, as well as veteran suicide awareness. He said the issue is very close to him and co-founder Susan Alexander.
"I was a Vietnam War veteran and Susan dealt with a suicide close to her," he said. "We had an urge to give back and we wanted to give people a reason to wake up in the morning. A dog is a great reason to wake up in the morning."
Bevacqua said the topic is also close to her, as her husband is a veteran, so helping this cause means a lot.
"It's an awesome feeling to pair both, a rescue dog and a veteran together. They both mean something and they both deserve it. It really is helping with veterans who are coming back," she said.
Ruszala says the dogs teach lessons to humans.
"We take dogs that are broken. They've been mistreated and abused and we give them a new start. The new beginning for the dog shows people that if the dog can do it, then they can start over too," he said.
Ruszala said the group has done work with addicts and citizens with jail history, and with proper training the dog also teaches them a lesson.
"The dog has been in a cage for a time in their life, just like the human. When that human sees the dog has rebuilt its life, it gives them hope and is an inspiration," he said.
Bevacqua said the funds raised at the event would go a long way for the missions of the Dog Tags program.
"The program is in need of better transportation, so the money raised will help the program to get a new RV to transport the dogs to the veterans," she said. "These people have to drive their own cars long distances to drive the dogs and sometimes it could be very hot, the dogs can get nervous and if they have that RV it would make things easier."
Ruszala said the RV is more of an item on the program's wish list that would be beneficial for future endeavors.
"We're 100 percent backed by the community and donations from the community. We have no paid staff. Our thing is, it would be nice to have an RV that, for example, we could drive out to Post 313 in Youngstown and have Dog Tag Days once a month. We want to be able to get out to more people," he said.
Bevacqua and Rey said they hope the collaboration will lead to more future endeavors with Dog Tags of NY.
"We're hoping that while we help them with this fundraiser, they come back to future fundraisers we have. We want Dog Tags of NY at our next event and then it's kind of pay it forward and then everybody helps everybody," Bevacqua said.
"We all have lives and we all have families, but when people can donate time and effort for others, it's the most heartfelt and selfless thing they can do," Rey said. "We're helping veterans and dogs and you can't go wrong with both. Next, we're going to help kids and we hope they're there. We're always looking for members to join us in the future."
Ruszala is very passionate in what he does and said helping veterans also helps him.
"It means everything," he said. "I was diagnosed with PTSD and alcohol was my drug of choice. I had survivor's guilt and it was torture. I wondered 'why not me?' I figured out, for some questions have no answers and for some reason I was given the gift of continued life and I better not waste it. It's part of the healing process and giving back is an enormous help. It's a win-win for me, because it helps a dog and a veteran."
Trent poses for a picture. (Photo by Joe Ruszala)