Tonawanda News

April 28, 2013

Niagara County dog lovers hold two successful rescues

By Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Dogs urgently in need of rescue have found new best friends in four Niagara County women who have dedicated their time and resources to help provide the animals with loving homes.

After six months of planning and organizing under the name Heart of Niagara, the women achieved their inaugural success March 24 when their first transport of rescue dogs arrived from a drastically over-crowded animal shelter in Monroeville, Ala.

The non-profit organization is founded by Cyndi Luna, Linda van Harssel, Margie Kwiatkowski and Kathy Nowakowski. The four met while volunteering at the Niagara County SPCA.

“We decided to go out on our own and take things in a different direction,” Nowakowski said. “It’s the perfect time in our lives to do something like this.”

Heart of Niagara’s goal is to first rescue animals from shelters where they are at risk of mistreatment or euthanasia. Then, when they arrive in Western New York, they are placed with volunteers who will be fostering them until a permanent home is found.

The inaugural rescue-aided dogs likely would not otherwise have been saved, van Harssel said.

Workers at the Alabama shelter expressed gratitude for the rescue. 

“We want people to understand that we do try to adopt here,” a contact from the Alabama shelter told van Harssel. “But due to the lack of spaying and neutering, there are far more pets (here) than can be re-homed.”

Animals arrive in Western New York through the assistance of many volunteers who volunteer to travel a leg of the journey. 

Before the pets can be adopted they are taken to the Village Vet of Lewiston where  veterinarian Kristen Ruest provides any needed medical attention.

“Their philosophy with animals is a lot like my own,” Ruest said. “You want to do what you can to help them because they need homes. I have the medical knowledge and the facility and great people to help me, and I want to help. Bottom line.”

Ruest does a complete physical exam, checking for a variety of ailments from heart murmurs to skin or ear infections. 

After being cleared by the vet the animals are free to be adopted to good homes. As of now, aside from continuing to bring in more animals in need of a home, Heart of Niagara has two main goals. The first is to find people to foster the animals until they are adopted.

“It’s a common problem,” van Harssel said. “You can never have enough fosters, you can always have more because there are always more animals than there are people who can take care of them.”

Another more long-term goal they have is to find a building they can use to shelter animals.

“There is always a need for more fosters,” van Harssel said. “But having a shelter would make the whole process much easier, instead of having to arrange a meeting with a potential adoptive family, and picking up the animal from the foster family, people looking to adopt a pet can come to us and it makes meeting the animals easier.”

The ladies at Heart of Niagara have since received their second transport of dogs from the South, who have all been examined by Ruest and placed with fosters.

For more information, Heart of Niagara can be reached at 345-7129 or online at or on Facebook at Heart of Niagara Animal Rescue, Inc.