WOODSTOCK – Harley-Davidson riders helped save the lives of military service dogs Saturday.
The second annual Save-A-Vet rally and poker run brought more than 1,000 bikers to the McHenry County Fairgrounds to raise money to build a facility where retired military dogs can live, instead of being put down. Disabled veterans will live in the building and take care of the
dogs, said Danny Scheurer, an Iraq veteran and founder of Save-A-Vet.
“Our goal is to earn enough money to build a facility to house 40 vets,” he said, adding that it will give the dogs a place to live out their lives. About 2,500 service dogs are put down each year, Scheurer said.
“The military’s doing the best it can do,’’ he said.
But many of the dogs are too aggressive because of their military training to be placed with a family.
“These dogs are like real soldiers,’’ he said.
Harley-Davidson dealerships in 10 Illinois and southern Wisconsin locations participated, with riders registering at the dealerships and making stops at five taverns along the way before coming to the fairgrounds. Waiting for them was live music, canine training demonstrations and lots of food.
Rick and Sarah Ferguson of Crystal Lake had a vested interest in making the ride.
“We’re both retired Air Force officers, and we have a son in Afghanistan right now,” said Rick, who had a brand-new Harley.
Although the two enjoy riding, they made the run “primarily for the cause,” he said.
After serving in Vietnam, Harry Thomas of Chicago was ready to tell the other bikers just who they were benefiting that day.
“They’re your last friend; they’re your counselor. They pretty much keep you sane,” said Thomas, carrying a binder filled with information on war dogs, including the names of every war dog who lost its life in Vietnam.
“I lost my first dog in November of 1970,” he said. “It’s estimated that the dogs that served in Vietnam saved 10,000 lives. They were actually out in front of the patrol going through the rice patches first.”
After the Vietnam War, the dogs were thought of as excess equipment and were not brought home, Thomas said. Now, all military dogs come back to the states and are kept at military bases around the country, but many eventually are put down.
A battlefield cross was built in front of the bandstand, with a second helmet and empty harness placed on it to represent the fallen canine soldiers.
For information on Save-A-Vet, visit www.save-a-vet.org/fundraiser.htm.