Football fans who love animals should make sure they don't miss the pre-game hoopla on Super Bowl Sunday. When quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos run out of the locker room and through the tunnel of cheerleaders, they will be preceded by their mascot, a galloping white Arabian gelding named Thunder.
Guided by his rider, Thunder always leads the team out of the locker room at home games in the Mile High City. The horse and his handlers stand on the sidelines throughout the game, waiting for the Broncos to score. Then Thunder is cantered or galloped up and down the field.
Thunder sounds like some kind of wonder horse. He also makes appearances to raise money for Denver-area charities, taking elevators to ball rooms and party rooms, where he is ridden between rows of tables to meet and greet guests. At two Christmas parties last year, he enchanted nearly 400 children, many of whom had never seen or touched a horse.
Although Thunder usually doesn't travel to away games, he was transported to New Jersey on Thursday for the Super Bowl, according to his owner, Sharon Magness Blake.
At the Super Bowl he will always be surrounded by his entourage, which includes Mrs. Blake, trainer-rider Ann Judge-Wegener and "security" guys whose duties include picking up Thunder's manure wherever it may fall.
Not just any horse would willingly ride in front of 76,000 screaming and cheering fans. Mrs. Blake says Thunder is "just so sweet and so easy" and very eager to please.
Thunder, 20, has been the official and unpaid mascot of the Broncos since 2004. While the general public would describe him as white, horse people would say he is gray. Thunder is a relatively small horse, measuring 14.3 hands at the withers. A hand is 4 inches. Classic Arabians traditionally are small, while Thoroughbred race horses are generally 17 hands or taller.
The current Broncos' mascot is actually Thunder II. Mrs. Blake and her husband, Bob Magness, who died in 1996, provided the original Thunder, an Arabian stallion who cavorted before fans from 1993 until 2003 when he retired at the age of 21. Thunder III, 14, is the current back-up, sometimes appearing in pre-season games and charity events. Their owner's second husband, Ernie Blake, is also a horse lover, and he will join her at the Super Bowl.
Mrs. Blake, 64, says she grew up poor in northeast Philadelphia and was in her 20s when she rode her first horse. Owning the Thunders and other horses "is a dream come true," she said. She regularly rides Thunder II on trails surrounding her ranch outside of Denver and occasionally rides him at Bronco games.
Our own Pittsburgh Steelers have met and petted Thunder, she noted, because his game-day stall is next to the visitors locker room. "Thunder is friendly, and Broncos fans think it's good luck for the opposing team to pet our mascot," she said.
While Thunder gallops and canters on the real grass of his home field, he won't be permitted on the artificial turf at the Super Bowl. Mrs. Blake has been told that the horse can be in the end zone. It's not clear how much of this the network will allow us to see.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mrs. Blake volunteered the information that the horse at the game Sunday actually will be Thunder III, who is younger and better able to handle the cross-country trip than Thunder II. Even most Broncos fans wouldn't be able to tell the difference because the horses look almost identical.
More than 200 fancy felines are expected to compete in the Steel City Kitties Inc. show next Saturday and Feb. 9 at the Pittsburgh Masonic Center, 3579 Masonic Way, 15237. That's in Ross, off of Cemetery Lane.
Persians, Maine coons, Orientals, Siamese and exotics are just some of the breeds that will be in the show that is sanctioned by The Cat Fanciers Association, the world's largest pedigreed cat registry.
Ten vendors will be selling toys, furniture and carriers for cats as well as hand-painted silk scarves and other items for the people who love cats. Look for the "ask a vet" booth.
Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children and no charge for children 5 and younger.
Cold weather help
Seven dogs and two cats were rescued from sub-zero temperatures last Monday and Tuesday night and taken to the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center in Larimer. Employees stayed all night with the animals.
"Only in Pittsburgh," says executive director Dan Rossi, who notes that volunteers from the Homeless Cat Management Team brought pastries and people snacks to get the staff through the long cold nights.
Are you a single dog lover without plans for Feb. 14? Animal Friends has a special "speed dating" event planned for you. "Must Love Dogs" is the name of the event that starts at 7 p.m. at the Ohio Township shelter.
You AND your dog are invited. For a $20 donation, you and your dog can quickly meet 10-15 eligible dates. Light refreshments will be provided.
"The animals are a great icebreaker, and their presence takes the stress out of meeting new people," said Sophie Gage, special events coordinator.
Don't have a dog? Animal Friends suggests bringing pictures of a furry friend. Dogs that attend should be leashed, but no retractable leashes, please. Bring vaccination records.
Advance registration is required at www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.
Every year around Valentine's Day, a "Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers" service is scheduled to mend the hearts of people who are grieving the death of a pet.
The service is by Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville. It's free and open to everyone, and not just for clients of Ms. Chebatoris.
The afternoon session is Feb. 16, but the RSVP deadline is Feb. 9: call 412-220-7800. It will be at LaBella Bean Cafe, 609 Washington Ave., Bridgeville (15017). When you sign up to attend, they'll tell you the exact time.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.