Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros, together with the Nashville Predators Foundation Empowered by SmileDirectClub, presented a check for $50,000 to local nonprofit Wags and Walks Nashville on Friday.
At the start of the 2022-23 season, Saros introduced the “Saros Saves Pucks and Puppies” campaign. For each save he made this season, he donated $5 to Wags and Walks Nashville. His season-end total donation was $9,640 (1,928 saves).
The Predators Foundation matched the $10,000 donation and encouraged fans to donate after games Saros played. This year’s total donation to Wags and Walks is $30,000. Additionally, both Saros and the Preds Foundation each donated $10,000 last year, resulting in a grand total of $50,000 after 18 months of fundraising.
All funds Saros raised during the season will fund the brand-new Wags and Walks Adoption Center in the Donelson-Hermitage area. Saros visited the site of the new Wags and Walks adoption center on Friday with his fiancee, Minna Varis, and their two dogs, Kesa and Nala, to present the check and tour the facility.
“It felt really natural for me,” Saros said. “I’ve always loved dogs, and then we adopted one of our own last year through Wags and Walks, so it felt the right thing to do right away when they asked me if I wanted to be a part of this… [Nashville’s] a home for us, too. It’s awesome to give back in some way.”
Wags and Walks is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to reducing euthanasia in local shelters and increasing awareness of rescue dogs being wonderful pets.” Saros and Varis first became involved with the organization in January 2022 when they fostered Nala before they ultimately ended up adopting her.
“She’s one of the best decisions we’ve made,” Saros said. “It’s awesome to have a sister for Kesa, and it’s fun to see how she’s grown. She was super shy when she first came home, and now I can kind of see her goofy personality. She’s awesome.”
The new Wags and Walks Adoption Center will consist of more than 5,000 square feet dedicated to continuing their lifesaving work. The center will allow their staff to double the impact of dogs saved while also being a resource to learn about the importance of rescue and the benefits of adopting.
“The Wags and Walks adoption center is going to have dogs onsite, and we’ll be able to facilitate dogs coming in and out through our medical programs,” Executive Director of Wags and Walks Nashville Kathryn Hurley said. “So we’ll have three medical rooms where we can treat dogs, do spay and neuter and have adoptions on site. Both for the dogs that are staying here and our foster pups, we’ll have three play yards where we’ll be able to facilitate play groups all day and a place for the community to come and volunteer.”
The funds donated by Saros and the Preds Foundation have been allocated to the center’s indoor/outdoor turf play area. The wall inside reads “Sponsored by the Nashville Predators” and features portraits of both Nala and Smash, the Predators Goodwill Ambassador. Upon completion, the wall will also be adorned with the Preds star pick logo.
“We met Juuse and Minna through them fostering a Wags and Walks pup, and it became very clear very quickly that they were going to ‘foster fail,'” Hurley said. “So they adopted Nala, and ever since then, we’ve developed a really strong relationship between them and the Preds being behind the Wags and Walks mission and… being able to sponsor the indoor/outdoor play yard. We’re so excited that a lot of dogs are going to enjoy it.”
Earlier this month, the NHL announced that Saros had been nominated for the 2022-23 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, presented “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” The Wags and Walks Adoption Center, set to open in late July, would not be possible without his contribution.
“It’ll be so fantastic to have a physical space where people can come and visit and we can show the work that we’re doing,” Hurley said. “Since we started the last four years it’s been completely foster-based, so it’s really hard to convey what the actual work looks like from a day-to-day basis. So having people to come on site and volunteer and being able to interact with the dogs [we can] show that when you donate, this is what we can do with the money and make a large impact. We’re really excited for people to come visit and see what we put into this.”