Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Down! Set! Pup! Pup!

Blue Bomber player, staffer join forces to help find homes for local strays, surrendered pets

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As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization prepares to take possession of its new home at the University of Manitoba, two team members are searching for new ones. Bomber player Chris Cvetkovic and Bombers' online sales manager Jessica Hansen may have very different roles in the Bomber organization, but they share the same goal when it comes to pets: to find permanent homes for local strays and surrendered pets.

Cvetkovic, the team's non-import long snapper, recently created Cvets Pets, an umbrella organization meant to assist five local no kill shelters and rescues. It's the first time the Hamilton native has spearheaded an organization; when asked why he chose to offer his time and effort to this cause, he said, "I have a soft spot for animals."

Many of Cvetkovic's teammates share this love of pets, which is likely a key reason he knew his fellow Bombers would pitch in when asked to help raise awareness and funds for Cvets Pets.

In addition to wanting to assist local shelters and rescues, this Bomber also practises what he preaches -- his own border collie/shepherd mix was adopted from Winnipeg Pet Rescue.

At a recent event called An Adoption Day with the Blue Bombers, we watched dogs and puppies stumble around and play together. You could tell he was a true dog lover. He confirmed this when he joked, "I should consider getting a smaller house and bigger yard."

Cvetkovic has other fundraisers in the works. He and his fellow Bombers have ambitious plans that range from poker tournaments to shadow-serving at a local restaurant. "After the cost (of the event is paid), 100 per cent of the profit goes back to the charities," he said. They're even doing a calendar in support of Cvets Pets.

Last Sunday's event featured appearances by four other Bombers -- Buck Pierce, Chris Greaves, Obby Khan and Chris Kowalczuk. They were on hand to sell pennants and autographs to support the Manitoba Underdogs Rescue. From the looks of the fans in attendance, it was clear they were happy to meet their gridiron heroes.

Smiles also abounded when the crowd spied the dogs -- it's difficult to have a grim face when you see lumbering puppies and jumping dogs enjoying an indoor dog park. However, when event attendees left to go to back to their homes, they knew that many dogs will be left without a home.

One black dog, Bryleigh, has been with the rescue since November. It's unfortunate; she'd make anyone a great pet. Cvetkovic was shocked to see how many black dogs are not chosen.

Giving all dogs a chance, including some black underdogs, is why Hansen and her co-director, Allison Boni, created Manitoba Underdogs Rescue.

The rescue started because of an experience Hansen and Boni had with a dog named Annie, found on a stormy night on the side of a highway in July 2011. After they took the thin and apparently abused dog to the vet, they discovered she had heartworm (a potentially fatal affliction which can easily be prevented through monthly pills). To raise funds for Annie's veterinarian bill, the two put together a garage sale. Annie was saved and Manitoba Underdogs Rescue was born.

Their goal is "not about numbers; the priority is the dogs that we have in our care," said Boni. Still, they're always looking for foster homes.

The Adoption Day event was the rescue's first official fundraiser. Hansen said she "was blown away with the support we've been given." They were thrilled to have the assistance of Sophie's Dognasium, a local indoor dog park, which Boni describes as "a little diamond."

Cvetkovic had no idea that Hansen had been running a dog rescue when he put together his own charitable organization; when he was approached by her for help, he was thrilled to do so. While he's humble about his own role, he's quick to praise to her. "I'm blown away by what she's doing," he said.

Approximately 200 people attended the event. One Chihuahua -- Patches -- had two people apply to adopt him. However, there are still many dogs that need to find fosters and permanent homes, including four adorable three-month-old Labrador mix puppies.

Getting any organization, including a charity, off the ground is never simple. One of the most difficult challenges facing rescue operators is creating public awareness. That's why an umbrella operation like Cvets Pets can be so important to groups like Hansen's and Boni's, as it can lend important support to fundraising events.

Who better to help these organizations than football players? Players like Cvetkovic already know what it's like to be part of a team.

To suggest events or offer donations to Cvets Pets, contact Jeff Bannon at www.bluebombers.com or cvets.pets@gmail.com

To direct donations or see possible rescues for Manitoba Underdogs Rescue, go to www.manitobaunderdogs.org

char.adam@mts.net twitter.com/charspetpage

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2012 C5

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