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Niagara Dog Rescue raises money for canine friends

The Niagara Dog Rescue ride raised funds for the organization that is 100 per cent volunteer driven; 'Last year we brought 12 dogs from the war zone in Ukraine'

Dogs and motorcycles, can it get better than that?

This past Saturday, Niagara Dog Rescue hosted its second annual Ride4Paws event, and some of the 125 riders brought their dogs along for the ride.

Originally from Mexico, members of the Fuentes family attended the event with a four-legged friend. Alberto Fuentes’ puppy is named Nacho. The family, own and operate a Mexican-food restaurant, Taco Embassy, in downtown St. Catharines. Nacho rides in a custom harness that Fuentes wears in front like a backpack. He even sports his own mini motorcycle helmet!

Jamie Leal and Danielle Lisi brought Murphy, a Lab/Australian shepherd mix who rides in his own back seat. They adopted Murphy from a family who had an unexpected litter of dogs.

They ride to raise funds for the dog rescue organization that started nine years ago, and is 100 per cent volunteer run and operates without “regional, provincial or federal funding,” said Roci Freeman, who sits on the board of directors of the organization. “We rely on events like this to support dogs that have medical needs, or if we need to rent a van to bring dogs here to be adopted.”

Niagara Dog Rescue has placed more than 9,500 dogs in homes all over the Niagara Region and beyond. “We have adopters, even in the States,” said Freeman. NDR is not a brick and mortar organization, rather, they are foster-based. “We don’t have a shelter, so we have foster homes and we’re all working from home.”

The fundraiser started with a dream, she explained. “We had this vision of having riders supporting our rescue, flying our flag and really advocating for our dogs.” Last year’s inaugural ride raised $8,200 with 83 participants.

The international organization also works with the communities that often do not have enough support for humans, never mind dogs, said Freeman. “We have been working in Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories,” and beyond.

“Last year we brought 12 dogs from the war zone in Ukraine,” said Freeman. “We’re now being asked to help dogs from the hurricane in the southern U.S.”

The event is a poker run. After getting their first playing card at Husky’s Travel Centre on York Road, Ride4Paws participants stop at four other checkpoints to pick up other playing cards before putting their kickstands down at Willoughby Firehall in Niagara Falls. The rider with the best poker hand at the end of the run wins. The route, about 130 kilometres, avoids highways and was expected to take just over two hours.

A group of friends riding from Brampton said they each have one or two dogs at home. “We just want to be here and support the good cause,” said Gurvinder Singh.

“This is our first time riding here,” said Singh, who explained that the friends ride together in many charity events. “Next week we are doing the Ride For Dad in Hamilton, and then we’re going to ride Boots on the Ground,” a Peel fundraiser to support first responders.

Kanwar Sran, Iqbal Brar and DJ Sarao, all Sikhs, ride wearing turbans instead of helmets, which has been legal in Ontario since 2018.

“It’s part of your identity,” explained Singh. “All these guys are passionate about riding, and they are happy because they get to keep their identity, and also enjoy their passion. We all understand there’s a safety concern about it, but people with helmets also die, so there’s no hard and fast rule to say that if you have this (a helmet), you’re going to survive.”

D.J. Sarao explained why he does not wear a helmet. “Wearing a turban is part of my life. This is not a choice whether I wear it or not. I have to wear it wherever I’m going, whether it’s work, the market,” or riding.

Last month the group of friends rode motorcycles on the island of Tofino in British Columbia and “dipped down into the States,” said Singh.

They started riding together four years ago and then COVID hit. “COVID helped us a lot,” joked Singh, who estimated it allowed them to put 98,000 kilometres on their bikes, 36,000 of them in the first year of COVID. “Last year we did a full Atlantic Canada tour and the year before, we did Ontario.”

As the group left for their next destination on the poker run, Freeman talked to The Local about how Niagara Dog Rescue is a huge advocate of responsible dog ownership.

“Dogs only know what you teach them, so people need to be patient and understand that these dogs think of you as their family. They will die to please you.”

She was also excited to explain a new direction NDR will be taking. “On Remembrance Day, we’re going to be launching a companionship initiative, a way to give back to veterans and first responders who we will pair up with trained dogs.”

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