Midland’s Bark for Life celebrates dog groomers from across the region

Dogs of all sizes and breeds visited Midland Central Park with their owners Saturday as the Midland County Relay for Life chapter hosted its annual Bark for Life event.

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

“We’re funding research, trying to alert people when they need (cancer) screenings,” Dockum said. “People who came out of COVID avoided examinations. What we find now is that the Stage 1 cancer is now Stage 4.

According to Dockum, the annual Bark for Life event has been held in Midland since 2013 and is held at various parks throughout the city. She explained that since dogs are not allowed in the Relay for Life walk due to health concerns, the Midland chapter wants to celebrate the positive impact dogs have on people’s lives.

“Some cancer patients go to their treatments, come home, go to sleep, and their dog is lying next to them, and that dog is their caregiver,” Dockum said. “This dog is giving them the love they need, the care they need to get through this.”

The event featured vendors, Relay for Life team tents, a silent auction and a raffle with proceeds going back to the American Cancer Society. This year’s total goal for Relay for Life in Midland County was $100,000, according to Dockum. He said the revenue now stands at about $85,000, and typically Bark for Life raises about $6,000.

One of the most popular stations was the Midland County Pit Stop, where four dog-bully mix puppies — Auburn, Lee, Bay and Rhodes — were up for adoption. Two more puppies — Clare and Sanford — were adopted earlier this week. All the pups were given local names because they were surrendered from their Midland County home, said Gwen Drake, founder of the Midland County Pit Stop.

“We’re very grateful when people reach out to us,” Drake said. “It’s always great to ask for help.”

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

“If you’re not vetting your pet, you’re not adopting from us,” Drake said.

After the phone interview, potential owners can make a home visit to meet their new pets. Adoption costs are $350 for dogs eight weeks to 2 years old, $300 for dogs 2-5 years old, and $250 for dogs over five years old.

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

Midland Police Officer Josh Thielen attended with the department’s K-9 unit, along with Leo, a German shepherd. During Bark for Life, Thielen spoke to people about the K-9 unit and the work it does. He also walks Leo in the park, teaches him to be obedient and quiet in public, and works with Leo’s sociable behavior.

“He’s not dog aggressive, he’s excited like a dog. He sees the dogs and says, “Oh, my friends!” says,” Thielen said. “In a perfect world, I want her to see all these dogs and do nothing.”

Leo is trained to be a patrol and drug dog. Thielen explained that the dog is trained to search for all drugs except marijuana, which is legal in Michigan. Shir can also track missing people, help set up searches and retrieve articles.

Thielen was grateful to be invited to Bark for Life because the presence of the K-9 unit at public events is of interest. He talked to several people and described the work and training that goes into handling police dogs.

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

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

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, Jewel, as a tiger, complete with a bandana and colorful tutu. It was the second year Letts participated in Bark for Life.

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

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