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Midland’s Bark for Life honors dog handlers from across the region

Dogs of all sizes and breeds visited Midland’s Central Park on Saturday with their owners as the Midland County Chapter of Relay for Life held its annual Bark for Life.

Bark for Life and Relay for Life benefit the American Cancer Society, which is committed to “attacking cancer from every angle,” said Bark for Life organizer Jen Dockum.

“We’re funding research, trying to let people know when they need their (cancer) screening,” Dockum said. “Coming out of COVID, people avoided their projections. What we are discovering now is that what could have been stage 1 cancer is now stage 4.”

According to Dockum, the annual Bark for Life event has been around Midland since 2013, taking place in different parks around the city. He explained that since dogs are not allowed at the Relay for Life walk-for-life event due to health concerns, the Midland chapter wanted to honor the positive impact dogs have on people’s lives.

“Some cancer patients go to their treatments, they come home, they go to bed, their dog lays down next to them, and that dog is their caretaker,” Dockum said. “That dog is giving them the love they need, the care they need to get by.”

The event featured vendors, Relay for Life team tents, a silent auction and a raffle with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. According to Dockum, this year’s overall goal for Relay for Life in Midland County was $100,000. She said earnings currently stand at around $85,000 and Bark for Life typically raises around $6,000.

One of the most popular stations was the Midland County Pit Stop, where four mixed bloodhound-aggressor puppies (Auburn, Lee, Bay and Rhodes) were up for adoption. Two more puppies, Clare and Sanford, were adopted earlier this week. All of the puppies were given local names, as they were originally delivered to a Midland County home, said Gwen Drake, founder of the Midland County Pit Stop.

“We’re very appreciative when people reach out to us,” Drake said. “Asking for help is always huge.”

The Midland County Pit Stop does not conduct on-site adoptions. Instead, they ask people to fill out an application before running a background and vet check.

“If you don’t test your pet, you don’t adopt us,” Drake said.

After a phone interview, a home visit can be scheduled for prospective owners to get to know their new pet. The adoption fee is $350 for dogs eight weeks to 2 years old, $300 for dogs 2 to 5 years old, and $250 for dogs over five years old.

“We love events like this (Bark for Life),” Drake said. “We get to go out and meet people and interact with them, hopefully grow our family.”

Midland Police Officer Josh Thielen was in attendance, joined by Leo, a German Shepherd from the department’s K-9 unit. During Bark for Life, Thielen spoke to people about the K-9 unit and the work that he does. He also walked Leo around the park, training him to be obedient and quiet in public, working on Leo’s social behavior.

“He is not an aggressive dog, but an excited dog. He sees dogs and goes, ‘Oh, folks!’” Thielen said. “In a perfect world, I want him to see all these dogs and not do anything.”

Leo is trained to be a patrol and narcotics dog. Thielen explained that the dog is trained to search for all drugs except marijuana, since it is legal in Michigan. Leo can also track missing people, help create quests, and recover items.

Thielen appreciated being invited to Bark for Life, as the presence of the K-9 unit at public events generates curiosity. He spoke to several people, describing the work and training that goes into handling police dogs.

“We are here to let people know that, especially in 2022, we are human,” Thielen said. “I’m just a human being in a uniform. We are literally no different than any of you.”

Bark for Life began with a pet parade around the park and in front of the King’s Daughters Home. Contests were held throughout the day for best costume, look-alike dog owner, largest dog, smallest dog, best trick, and best kiss.

Angela Letts of Alma and owner of Studio 851 Pet Spa & Grooming LLC won the Mardi Gras-themed costume contest. She dressed her 1-year-old standard poodle named Jewel as a tiger along with a multicolored bandana and tutu. This was the second year that Letts participated in Bark for Life.

“Dogs are very popular, so it’s important that they can represent a good cause,” Letts said.

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