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Woodstock Harley riders raise cash for big cats



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The Woodstock Harley Davidson dealership sponsored a bike ride fundraiser for the Valley of the Kings animal sanctuary in Sharon on July 7. Riders drove to the sanctuary to donate money and tour the grounds.

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July 09, 2013 | 02:04 PM
SHARON — The rumble started even before the more than 100 Harley Davidson motorcycles turned onto Town Hall Road.

Inside the Valley of the Kings animal sanctuary, the lions started a chorus of roars.

Claudia Marchetti and her husband Carmen rode from Prospect Heights, Ill., to hear the chorus.

"It's the third year that we've gone through the Woodstock Harley Davidson," Marchetti said. "They set up the benefit ride for Valley of the Kings. We ride a little over an hour up to Woodstock with a set of friends that also ride."

From Woodstock, the Marchettis joined the group and rode through the back roads up to the sanctuary.

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Valley of the Kings houses big cats like lions, tigers, cougars and panthers, but also other abused or neglected animals rescued from improper homes.

"The ride up was very, very nice," Marchetti said. "We really enjoy going there and seeing all the animals they rescued."

Both Steve Amella and Marchetti watched others feed the cats.

"I thought it was cool that they just crunch the bones," Amella said. "One cat used its paws to hold it up, like hands."

Marchetti said she's fed animals in the past.

"It's interesting. They don't act real hungry," she said. "They like the chicken wings and breasts. It seems like they like taking it from their handlers instead."

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Big Cat Ride

Teri Molitor has coordinated the ride from Woodstock for four years.

"A friend of mine, Stefan Levy, actually started the Big Cat Ride," she said. "He was on another ride with another (Harley Davidson) dealership. They took him up to the sanctuary, and he fell in love with the lions, tigers and wolves."

Levy started his own ride to benefit the sanctuary.

Molitor said Levy organized the ride for four years before he passed the work on to her.

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"He didn't have the time to devote to the ride like he wanted to," Molitor said.

"He asked me to coordinate it for him. I was more than happy to do that."

All riders arrived safely at the sanctuary this year.

"In the past we've had a few glitches," Molitor said. "This year it was totally under control. There were no accidents, thankfully."

Amella said riders helped each other.

"I didn't have a ton of friends on the ride, but a lot of people got together," he said. "There was this comradery. The whole ride there, everybody looked out for each other."

Those riders help make the ride successful.

"We raised a lot of money," Molitor said. "Last year, we raised $2,700. I don't know yet how much we made this year. It's just a good time."

Amella drove his three-wheeled motorcycle from Chicago to Woodstock to join the ride.

"They call me Three-Wheeled Steve," he said. "This is my second time doing the Big Cat Ride. One of the organizers gave me a flyer (for the event). It was a good 170 miles, maybe more, to get to Sharon."

The Marchettis ride a regular two-wheeled bike with a trike-converter.

"My husband started riding and I rode on the back," she said. "I started sliding off the back a few times, so we got the converter. He just backs the bike into this attachment. It adds two wheels on the back."

Though she won't be driving, she plans to keep coming with her husband.

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"I'm sure we'll keep going every year," Marchetti said. "It's a nice ride up there. We take a lot of side streets."

Rest, finally

"We're just there visiting and learning more about the different animals and where they've came from," Marchetti said. "Some of the poor things have been tortured."

Many of the animals at the sanctuary are retired from wildlife shows, zoos and circuses, but others were caged for breeding purposes.

"It was so cool to see the big cats in their swimming pools," Amella said. "They were just chilling out in the tubs. They were hot, too."

According to the Valley of the Kings website, many of the cats at the sanctuary would have been killed if not rescued.

"It's a beautiful thing to try to save these creatures," Amella said. "If they weren't there (the sanctuary), there is no place for them to go."

A major part of the Big Cat Ride is a tour of the sanctuary. The volunteer members share the stories of the animals.

"They did a really nice job of parking us and educating us about the cats," Molitor said.

Amella said he likes supporting such a good cause.

"It's a very worthwhile thing to support," he said. "I think it's very rewarding to see the cats and be able to be a part of that. We have wild adventures all the time, but these are real wild animals."

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