Niagara Gazette

September 17, 2013

Help for Niagara pets and owners in need

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Some days Grace Wingard is practically up to her ears in dog and cat food. And it makes her question how she ever got into feeding needy animals in the first place. But, she’s not planning to give up any time soon.

Wingard, like several other pet lovers in Western New York, has put action behind her love for mankind’s furry friends, creating one of several new services for Niagara residents and their dogs, cats and other critters. 

Wingard works at the Donner Creek Veterinary Clinic in Lockport as the practice manager. Two years ago, her boss, Dr. Jeanne Fournier, was looking for a new way to give back to the community. With money donated at the clinic’s annual open house, Wingard founded Niagara Pets Meals on Wheels. 

Every week Wingard goes out and buys enough dog and cat food for the 56 registered pets whose shut-in owners are cared for by to the Niagara County Office for the Aging meal delivery program. Wingard bags and sorts each portion. The food is sent to the volunteers who deliver for the food program, and then, pets of shut-ins receive nutritious meals along with their owners.

The program makes a big difference to Mildred Harris, 72, of Niagara Falls, whose 1-year-old kitty, Cali, gets pet food from the program. Harris says the cat helps fill her days, amusing her with its endless curiosity and the games of chase, and the pet food comes in handy.

“I only get one check a month so this helps me,” Harris said.

Without such a program, some seniors give their pets food from their own meals, said Kara Donovan, coordinator of the county’s home delivered meal program — a program that is always seeking volunteers to aid in deliveries.  

“It’s better, nutritionally, for pets and people,” she said, if everyone is eating food that was created especially for their dietary needs.

Wingard is struggling to keep her little program going as it is almost out of funds. She’s hoping to hear about several grant opportunities but vows not to quit. 

“A couple of hours of stress and sweating is really worth it if I can help others in need,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Niagara Falls, a couple has turned their efforts to saving pets from euthanization by owners who don’t have funds for medical care for their animals.

Linda and Gary Hepler got the idea for their non-profit Hope Before Heaven, when they were at the vet getting treatment for their dog.

“While we were there we saw a younger couple come in with a young dog with a broken leg. It had to be euthanized because the owners were in an emergency situation and they didn’t have the money to pay for medical care. It broke my heart,” Linda said.

Since then the couple became a state-certified non-profit and have been fundraising at several events, including the recent Niagara Falls Blues Festival. They plan to be at the Harvest Fest in Lewiston Sept. 28 and 29. Their efforts have already helped several pet owners get their pets the care they need to get well. 

“Just this week alone we helped two cats and a dog,” Linda said. 

Pet owners who need help can contact the couple, but there are forms to be filled out, including a diagnosis from a vet. The pair, who take no salary, are currently seeking a local corporation who might like to sponsor a portion of their efforts. 

“It’s all volunteer,” Linda said, noting that the project gives meaning to the loss of their beloved sheltie, Aasha Sue. “This way we can, in the memory of our beautiful girl, give back to our community.”

The dog’s name, Aasha, means hope in Sanscrit, explained Gary, “and we know all dogs go to heaven, so that why we named our organization Hope before Heaven.”

Over in Akron, another pet business is reaching out to help animal assistance programs throughout Western New York. The company, formed in January by veterinarian Glenn Buckley, called Pet Rescue RX, is an online pet medication site, and all the proceeds from purchases goes to non-profits that help animals of all kinds. 

“A hundred percent of our net profits are going to be turned back to pet shelters and animal rescue places,” said Buckley, who owns two animal hospitals in Florida. “We take no compensation,” he said of himself and his partner, his brother, Scott Buckley, of Akron. 

“The pet medication industry is huge,” he said. “Over $8 billion a year is spent and we’re not asking for a donation, we’re asking you to buy what you normally buy for your pets. If we make this successful we can make a tremendous impact on the organizations that need us.”

Buckley encourages all non-profit animal organizations to sign up for assistance on his website at

Another organization that has been set up to assist pet owners is Niagara Pet Food Pantry, located at 8600 Buffalo Ave. and open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday. Paulette Coty-D’Antuono, who founded the pantry, is holding a free microchip clinic at 10 a.m. Sept. 26. Pet owners are asked to bring leashed pets who have already received rabies shots. Dr. Kristen Ruest of The Village Vet in Lewiston will administer the microchip shots. 

“I do it because the animals need our help,”  said Coty-D’Antuono, of the pantry, adding the project keeps her mind off family issues, including the health of her son who is battling cancer. Since she opened the panty she’s helped about 250 pet owners.  

Like the other animal assistance groups, Ctoy-D’Antuono is always seeking donations or volunteers. Those who wish to contribute in any way can contact her at 692-1955.

“My shelves are almost all empty,” she said.



HELP FOR PETS • Niagara Pets Meals on Wheels: Call the Niagara County Office for the Aging at 438-4031. Volunteers always welcome • Hope Before Heaven: For help saving pet from euthanization, call Linda or Gary Hepler at 236-7346 • Pet Rescue RX, Inc.: Call 1-855-307-7940 or visit to purchase pet medications or to register an animal non-profit to receive donations • Niagara Pet Food Pantry: Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at 8600 Buffalo Ave. (rear). Call 692-1955 to donate or for free pet food information