“The epic year.”
That’s what Debra Jo Chiapuzio is calling this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
At this year’s event, she will celebrate 20 years of attending the rally, her husband Jim will celebrate 28 years, their Labrador/Great Dane Emma Zen will celebrate her 15th year and Baby Banks, their miniature pig, rounds out the group with her 10th appearance in Sturgis. Combined, the family will have more than 70 years of experience at one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world.
Chiapuzio didn’t grow up thinking she would travel thousands of miles with her dog and pig in motorcycle sidecars, raising money for animal oxygen masks. But now she wouldn’t change a thing.
The journey began in the Chiapuzios’ hometown of Anaheim, California, when she asked the local fire department what they were able to do when it came to helping animals in a fire. She wanted to make sure that Emma Zen was well taken care of, if an emergency happened to occur.
She found out that there were no mandates or special equipment in place to help animals and due to budget reasons, there wasn’t much the fire department could do, no matter how much they wanted to.
So Chiapuzio started working on turning the issue around and in 2011, she created the nonprofit Emma Zen Foundation with the goal of raising money for animal oxygen masks in fire departments throughout the country.
Since the birth of the foundation 11 years ago, Chiapuzio and the Emma Zen Foundation have supplied more than 8,000 masks to departments throughout the country.
In 2016, 13 animal oxygen masks were donated to the CCFD by Cindi Shank, then-Chief Bill Shank’s wife. Shank raised money for the masks through a Facebook post and the community pitched in to buy the 13 oxygen kits that cost $110 each.
Eleven of the kits are on fire engines and two are used by Emergency Medical Services.
Captain Robert Dickey said that in the last few years, the masks have helped revive at least two animals found in fires.
In their time going back and forth to Sturgis, Baby Banks and Emma Zen have turned into something of spokes-animals for the cause. Both have been comfortable riding in the Harley Davidson set-up complete with goggles, practically since birth.
Banks attended her first rally before she was even 1 year old. The 150-pound miniature pig is house-trained and does not roll in mud because she’s acclimated to her homey Anaheim life.