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‘It’s like having a best friend’: Incarcerated individuals train service dogs for veterans at Niagara County Jail

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — A local veteran organization is expanding its service dog training program within county jails and state prisons. Inmates learn how to train the dogs before the animals report for duty with their veteran owner.

“To me, I say win, win, win,” Sheriff Michael Filicetti said. “It’s a win for our incarcerated population, for the dogs who sometimes aren’t rescued, and for the veterans at the end of the program.”

The Niagara County Jail was the first to partner with ‘Pawsitives for Heroes’, allowing incarcerated people to train service dogs. Chris Kreiger is a veteran himself and says his service dog helped him through dark times, making him want to help others. This program is now in three correctional facilities, providing more fully trained service dogs to veterans in need, including a few of the Buffalo Sabres team dogs like Blue.

“By us pairing up with the county and state correctional facilities, we can put them in the facilities for a minimum of ten months where they can have 24/7 training with the individuals who are incarcerated as opposed to having a veteran come to our facility once or twice a week,” Kreiger explained.

The organization was founded in 2014 and has its own facility. It has been a key program in the Niagara County Jail since 2020, which was the first correctional facility to partner with ‘Pawsitives for Heroes’. Kreiger and his team go into the jail to work with the incarcerated individuals to help them become dog trainers, teaching them career skills to take with them.

“It’s like having a best friend. Unfortunately, when all of the other inmates have to lock in alone, and they’re alone with their thoughts, the day and whatever happened to them throughout the day, I actually get somebody to cuddle with, and hang out, I get to talk to her,” John Buchanan, a participant of the program, said.

So far, it has partnered 180 veterans with dogs and now it is doubling in size, adding three more state prisons to its roster soon.

“I believe in second chances. I believe we should be doing things so we don’t see the same people over and over again,” Sheriff Filicetti said.

Buchanan is a twice-deployed military police officer who served in Iraq. He says he is grateful for the opportunity to learn a new skill while helping a fellow veteran.

“This is something I wanted to get into once I got out of here, counseling, drug and alcohol counseling once I got out of here. With the dogs, it’s wonderful because it occupies my time. I get to train with a dog. She’s really awesome. She helps me with my PTSD,” Buchanan added.

“For veterans to be incarcerated, for them to have this fulfillment knowing that they’re helping a veterans organization and together we are saving a veterans life out there somewhere, what more could you ask for,” Kreiger concluded.

For more details on the program, you can visit the ‘Pawsitive for Heroes’ page on the WNY Heroes website.

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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

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What did you see in the sky in Western New York?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — What was that you could see in the sky across Western New York on Wednesday night?

It was a meteor. News 4 received reports of something catching fire in the sky around 6:45 p.m. Wednesday and that it could be seen all the way from Grand Island to East Aurora. The meteor ignited in the air but never hit the ground.

“You might have saw a decent fireball in the sky if you’re looking south,” News 4 meteorologist Mike Doyle said. “It may have lasted anywhere from a second to three seconds depending where you were.”

The meteor could be seen outside of Western New York, too, as posts on social media claimed it could be seen in the Washington, D.C. area as well.

This is believed to be the first meteor in the area since November 2022, when a meteor could be seen across the area into Ontario.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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Cheektowaga discussing going to political ward system

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Wednesday night, the Cheektowaga town board held a meeting to begin discussions on whether the town should be changed to a “ward” political system, similar to that of Buffalo’s.

In December Ken Young, a Cheektowaga resident who campaigned for a town board seat, filed a complaint against the town that accused them of violating New York State’s John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, costing him the election due to at-large voting in the town.

In Wednesday’s meeting, residents were able to make their voices heard on whether they agree with him.

“Not just about minorities being up there it’s about people from the communities neighborhoods that we live in that will have a spokesperson for us,” Young said.

In the initial complaint, Young alleges that town officials are aware of the segregation, and claims they chose not to do anything about it.

The idea is leaving residents split.

“Who is gonna be split? Is it going to be six districts or the board going down to four, is it going to be four districts? There’s a lot of questions here,” said Cheektowaga resident Rick Maisano.

Young’s allegation led the town board to hire national redistricting and voting rights experts Jeffrey Wice and Dr. Lisa Handley as advisors. in their findings, they claim that the results of the past two elections for town office were racially polarized. Wice and Handley say this restricts minority voters from electing their preferred candidates.

“In the south area is supposed to be this bad area but he did well, but the Republicans did well too. There’s reasons for these things,” Cheektowaga resident Frank Max said. “This is not prejudice.”

Young’s notice of claim, which is not a lawsuit, is still in the process of being reviewed of potential NYVRA violation, with the town saying Wednesday they will consider options like the district voting system and term limits. They have till June 10 to do so before Young could potentially sue.

“I want to see my neighborhood thrive and grow just like south Cheektowaga but the only way it can happen right now that I can see is they have somebody in the community to speak up,” Young said.

There is another meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday. Written complaints can also be filed with the town clerk.

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Dillon Morello is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has been part of the News 4 team since September of 2023. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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Workers union blames Remedy House owners for closure

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Workers at a recently closed coffee shop on Buffalo’s West Side are claiming that the closure was due to “mismanagement” and “an inability of the owners to pay employees.”

Remedy House, which has been open on Rhode Island Street in Buffalo since 2016, announced in a social media post on Tuesday night that it would close and transition to new ownership.

Remedy House Workers United, which was established just over a year ago as workers announced a unionization effort and went on strike, claims that workers were not paid and that the store was mismanaged.

“We want to be clear that the closure is due to mismanagement of the business and an inability of the owners to pay employees. If Remedy House is to reopen in the future, there are a number of changes that need to occur before that is even a possibility, including workers being compensated for the wages they are owed,” the union said on social media on Wednesday.

Remedy House owners said on social media that they were “dedicated” to helping a “future version” of the shop.

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Justin McMullen is a Western New York native who joined the News 4 team in 2023. You can read more of his work here.

Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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Agriculture community fights to ensure fairness for farmworkers and rights to unionize

BUFFALO N.Y. (WIVB) – Leaders in the agriculture community say the rights of farmworkers in New York is at stake.

Farmworkers’ right to collective bargaining was put in place in 2019, when the state passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA). However, last fall the Grow NY Farms Coalition filed a motion against it claiming, under New York’s current farm labor collective bargaining law, farmworkers do not have the same rights as all other private sector workers in NYS.

The argument is that under the act, farmworkers are not given the right to a secret ballot election, and farmworkers do not have the right to choose to no longer be represented or to decertify.

“It’s just getting started here in New York state, there are very few farm unions, why not get it right the first time,” said David Zittel, who owns Amos Zittel & Sons.

Zittel says he’s not against his employees unionizing, but wants to make sure it’s done correctly.

“I do understand that there is a process, a need for unions and certain circumstances. It’s not about being right or wrong or good or bad or for me or not for me. If our workers decided they needed a union representative or to represent them, we’re ok with that, we just want it to be safe for them,” he said.

Members of New York’s agriculture community are advocating for amendments and improvements to the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act ensure farmworkers’ rights are protected.

Some argue the motion is preventing farmworkers from unionizing.

“What they’ve done, is they’ve frozen the law,” a union representative said during a rally downtown. “Our negotiations have been frozen and all the bargaining units we have won so far. So they have caused irreparable harm already.”

On Wednesday, dozens of people gathered downtown ahead of a preliminary Injunction hearing. The hearing was scheduled to address the concerns of farmworkers and farmers.

“Whether you’re a farmworker, a nurse, a trades or a barista, we are here to improve the lives and increase the power of working families. To bring fairness and dignity to the workplace and secure social equity,” said Peter DeJesus, who is the president of the WNY Area Labor Federation.

“While progress was made, our efforts to protect farmworkers’ rights have been delayed. We will continue to advocate for fairness for farmworkers in New York State,” said Brian Reeves, president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association. “Farmworkers deserve the same rights as everyone else. By making the amendments and improvements to the FLFLPA that New York’s agriculture community is seeking, farmworkers will finally have the same collective bargaining right as all other private sector workers.”

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.

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Oxford Pennant promises ‘Best Seat in the Universe’ for solar eclipse

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On April 8, Buffalo will be booming with people here to see the total solar eclipse. For two lucky people, Oxford Pennant is providing an all-expenses paid trip for the event.

“Buffalo’s us and we are Buffalo, so it just seemed like a good time to do something cool,” said Brett Mikoll, creative director for the Buffalo-based company. “This also kind of gets everybody on the radar of, either people who have left and moved somewhere else, or friends from college, or just people who know nothing about Buffalo – they only know about the Bills – and they want to know more about it. And this is a perfect time to do it.”

The sweepstakes winner and a person of their choosing will get round-trip airfare, three nights in the penthouse suite of the Mansion on Delaware and a number of gift cards and packages to some of the best places the Queen City has to offer: the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Southern Junction and Gutter Pop Comics.

Oxford Pennant is also promising a great view of the eclipse, weather permitting. The two people will share a roped-off couch from the Richardson Olmsted south lawn.

“For a few otherworldly minutes in April, that loveseat will be the best seat in the universe,” said Dave Horesh, the company’s co-founder.

This is the third time Oxford Pennant is holding a sweepstakes to bring people to Buffalo. Mikoll said the eclipse is now the perfect opportunity to showcase our area.

“The energy that something like this creates is infectious, so I think this helps us flex those muscles of, let’s design some merch, let’s promote Buffalo, let’s show off some of the things we do in the best way possible,” he said.

To enter, head to Oxford Pennant’s website and submit your email address. Anyone can enter – you don’t need to be living outside Western New York.

The sweepstakes is open until March 3, and a winner will be randomly chosen March 4.

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Marlee Tuskes is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

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Buffalo Urban League’s new $25 million headquarters on East Side will bring with it ‘a lot of hope’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In an area cut off, forgotten and traumatized by a racist shooter, seeds of hope have been planted. On May 14, 2022, The Buffalo Urban League deployed FEMA-trained counselors to the Tops on Jefferson Avenue.

Then, less than a quarter mile down the street, they helped open the Buffalo Resiliency Center.

“People can drop in to get individual assistance,” Thomas Beauford Jr., the president/CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, said. “They can drop in there to find out about all the different programming that we’re having to just rebuild the community, their sense of safety, and promise of what can happen in the future.”

And now, across the street from that center, the Buffalo Urban League plans to open a new, $25 million headquarters. It will sit at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Dodge Street.

“The mission of the Buffalo Urban League is to help African Americans and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parody, economic self-reliance, power and civil rights,” Beauford said. “That’s the long answer. The short answer is: we empower communities and change lives.”

So what else does the Buffalo Urban League do? They help the young to the old.

“I’ll start with, we run a foster care and adoption agency… so we’re talking about the youngest age possible,” Beauford said.

They also have a variety of teen programming and provide scholarships to graduating high schoolers for college. They also help people get jobs who don’t have further schooling. They help people with housing too, and beyond.

“Our housing services range anywhere from… you don’t have housing, to you’re looking for housing, to ‘I want to improve my housing situation,’ to ‘I have treble with the affordability with my housing temporarily,’ all the way up to first-time homebuyers and financial literacy and working through the process… and even foreclosure prevention,” Beauford said.

The Buffalo Urban League first started serving the Queen City in 1927, originally on the East Side. In the 80s, they moved to the center of downtown: 15 Genesee St.

But lately, they’ve been bursting at the seams. After reconfiguring what they could in their three-story building, they decided to lease out satellite buildings across Buffalo.

“We’ve outgrown the space we’re in now,” Beauford said.

Their new headquarters will allow them to close some of those buildings, bringing most of what they need to their new space. That building will also include event space, some retail space and even housing. It will be kitty-corner to the Johnnie B Wiley Sports Pavilion, a place many have gathered to celebrate different events, each other and their community.

And the money will come from different funding. That includes $1 million from the Erie County Legislature, and another $1 million from the NYS Assembly and Majority leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

They hope to move to the East Side in time for their centennial in 2027.

“We want to be a part of this energy that brings a lot of hope and starts to repair and restore this community,” Beauford said.

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Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor who came back home to Buffalo in 2018. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

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7 being assisted after fire on Gibson Street

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Seven people are being assisted following a fire on Gibson Street in Buffalo on Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said.

Crews responded to 22 Gibson just after 2 p.m. Wednesday, where the fire had started on the first floor of the home.

Damage from the fire is estimated at $280,000. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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Buffalo man sentenced for 2022 home invasion

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A Buffalo man has been sentenced to 2-to-4 years in prison for a home invasion in the city’s University Heights neighborhood in 2022, the Erie County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday.

Stacey Fuller, 56, entered a home on Allenhurst Road in Buffalo on the evening of July 27, 2022 by removing a screen and climbing through a second-floor window. Once inside, he stole the female victim’s property and motioned like he had a gun.

Fuller eventually fled when he was confronted by the victim’s son. He was arrested a short time later and was found to have two bags that included the woman’s safe, personal papers, credit card and jewelry. The two did not know each other.

He pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree burglary in October. A final order of protection was also issued, which will last for five years.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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Independent Health, RiverWorks partner for winter recess activities

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Winter recess is rolling on by, and if you’re looking for something fun to do, Independent Health and RiverWorks are partnering up to offer free activities for families to get out, get moving and have some fun.

“Physical activities are so important to us and we really need to do it year-round,” Independent Health senior corporate wellness specialist Michelle Carberry said. “So even though it is cold and you want to stay maybe on the couch or in bed and stay nice and warm if we give them something fun to do it makes it a little more manageable a little more attractive for people to come out and it doesn’t seem like such a chore.”

Independent Health encourages everyone to find ways to beat cabin fever and is helping parents find activities around the house to keep their children active.

Free ice skating and roller skating will continue until Thursday evening at $4 skate rentals. And if you’re interested, you can take part in ropes courses for $20.

The activities will continue until 9 p.m. Wednesday and also take place from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday.

If you’d rather stay at home, there are still plenty of fun activities to take part in.

“So on your next rainy or really snowy day when you really don’t want to leave the house you can use things like pillows or dice or cards and just incorporate some activities into your day and it’s a great way for kids and adults to practice their balance, to practice maybe a little agility or hand-eye coordination,” Carberry said.

For more information on all the activities, click here.

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Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.

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