The Riveras—and their dog, Tahoe—are helping The Humane Society, and it’s adorable

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Alex Cason Photography
Ron and Stephanie Rivera with Shake and Bake, puppies available for adoption from The Humane Society. Their golden retriever, Tahoe, looks on at Bank of America Stadium in September 2019.

Meet Shake. He’s 10 weeks old, and he likes to nibble on CharlotteFive’s camera equipment, take short walks and swat at his brother’s nose. That’s his brother, Bake, next to him.

And here’s Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and his wife Stephanie holding the brothers, who are available for adoption from The Humane Society of Charlotte*. Their golden, Tahoe (shown at top), wanders around nearby, trying — unsuccessfully — not to look jealous.

Alex Cason Photography
Ron and Stephanie Rivera hold lab mix brothers Shake and Bake

In a city where (most) dogs can outshine (most) celebrities on any given day, it’s hard to tell who was the star of the show one recent day at Bank of America Stadium when CharlotteFive sat down with the Riveras to talk about all things dogs.

The couple’s love for canines runs deep. In fact, the first real gift Stephanie ever gave to Ron was a golden retriever named Dribble. It was January 1985, and it was a must-love-dogs love story for the ages. “When we got engaged, I was playing with the Chicago Bears. I was in transit my rookie year from Chicago back to California, and Stephanie decided to buy me a birthday present,” Ron said. “It was January of 1985, just before we got married.”

Alex Cason Photography
Ron and Stephanie Rivera with their golden retriever, Tahoe, at Bank of America Stadium in September 2019.

Dogs have been a big part of their lives ever since. “Hopefully soon we’ll be getting Tahoe a buddy from the Humane Society,” Stephanie said.

“In some cases, dogs complete families,” Ron said. “For us, having a dog has completed our family — to have somebody there that you can care for.”

In fact, Tahoe is so much of a part of the family that he has his own Instagram account.

“It’s always about family. All of our pets have always been members of our family. It’s just a component that a lot of people are missing. It’s great for people to be able to experience it like we have.”

Dogs are for everyone

It’s no stretch, due to this love of animals, that the Riveras are serving as honorary co-chairs of a fundraising campaign to replace the outdated Humane Society of Charlotte with a new center.

“The city is growing and growing and growing,” Ron said. “With as many dogs and cats that are abandoned, The Humane Society of Charlotte tries to service all of those needs.” It’s about more than taking care of pets — an educational component can only help increase animal welfare, he said.

Video by Alex Cason

“The biggest thing is, you’ll see a lot less pets returned or brought to The Humane Society if people understand how to take care of them,” Stephanie said. “It’s really important to include a pet in your family but you also have to understand how to help them be a part of your family.”

It would help the community as a whole, she said.

A recent analysis by The Charlotte Observer showed that the number of animals killed in recent years has dropped in North Carolina. The percentage of cats euthanized statewide fell from 71% in 2013 to 44% last year, while the number of dogs killed dropped from 46% to 28% over that period.

Local programs help animals

Alex Cason Photography
Lab mix brothers Shake and Bake are available for adoption from The Humane Society.

This is, in part at least, due to the success and education of local programs and volunteer groups designed to help animal welfare. The euthanasia area at Charlotte’s public animal shelter was once one of the busiest parts of the building, The Observer reported. These days, the focus is on keeping animals alive.

A quick search for Charlotte animal rescue groups nets more results than one can count. These groups, mostly staffed with volunteers, transport animals to new homes all over the country. Many of these animals are pulled from shelters so they won’t be killed, and they are fostered at volunteers’ homes until they can find a permanent family.

Another local clinic, Stand For Animals (formerly Spay Neuter Charlotte) is a nonprofit veterinary clinic focused on making spay/neuter procedures and other veterinary care attainable and affordable. It has fixed 87,000 dogs and cats since its founding in 2011.

The Humane Society

Courtesy of The Humane Society of Charlotte
A rendering shows the new HSC Animal Resource Center.

And of course there’s the The Humane Society. Using campaign money, it will build a 46,000-square-foot campus with an ultimate goal of enhanced care. The new facility, to be located at 2401 Berryhill Road, will include expanded clinic services, an outdoor dog park and an education center. The current facility is almost 50 years old and is dated. “Right now it’s roach-infested and unsafe. The kennels are dilapidated,” Donna Stucker, vice president of development with the Humane Society, told CharlotteFive.

The new facility will be completely different. Expect an expanded indoor adoption counseling and interaction area, including a pet meet-and-greet center. The kennels will be indoors and climate controlled to promote lower stress. An expanded cat-io (cat patio, get it?) area will allow cats to spend time outdoors.

The nicer campus will be able to host more visitors via school field trips, summer camps or birthday parties. Children learning how to read will be able to read to dogs.

Courtesy of The Humane Society of Charlotte
A rendering shows the new HSC Animal Resource Center.

You’ll be able to take your dog to get behavioral lessons — even therapy dog training. “We’d love to get some of these animals prepared for helping veterans with PTSD,” Stephanie said.

In fact, Tahoe is currently going through a therapy dog program himself. In addition to The Humane Society, the Riveras also work with the Ronald McDonald House and the USO of North Carolina. “Comfort dogs and therapy dogs can go to the hospitals,” Stephanie said. “They (members of Ronald McDonald House) said, ‘If you have a therapy dog, you guys can come all the time.’ I’d love to come more to Ronald McDonald House and now I could bring a dog, once he’s certified.”

The Humane Society’s capital campaign has raised $11 million of its $15 million goal.

Alex Cason Photography
Ron and Stephanie Rivera with Shake and Bake, puppies available for adoption from The Humane Society. Their golden retriever, Tahoe, looks on at Bank of America Stadium in September 2019.

*Editor’s note: Since this story was written, Shake and Bake have both been adopted.

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