Teddy will only drink water from a crystal glass with ice cubes, loves the labels on his toys, and enjoys a good underarm tickle. But this huge dog didn’t always have it so good.
When Teddy arrived at Annie Blumenfeld’s home in Fairfield, Connecticut after being rescued from a high-kill shelter in Texas, he was infected with heartworm disease, the treatment for which is expensive and sometimes life-threatening.
Fortunately, after a month of treatment, Teddy made it out on the other side, happy and healthy. But it wasn’t enough for Annie to just breathe a sigh of relief—she wanted to help more dogs avoid the same fate.
Annie, then just an eighth grader, created nonprofit Wags 4 Hope to help spread awareness of heartworm disease and help animal shelters pay their medical bills.
To fund that mission, she paints beautiful watercolor and acrylic portraits of people’s pets, which go for about $30 apiece. So far, she’s painted over two hundred of them, donating them to silent auctions and handing them over to excited pet parents who have commissioned them. Coupled with additional donations from supporters, she has raised over $40,000 to date.
“Many people stop Teddy all the time when I walk him, and I always explain how he was rescued and his story,” she said. “A lot of these pet owners had never heard of heartworm disease, so I always try to get the word out even on walks.”
She also worked with her state representative for over a year and half on a bill called HB-5422, An Act Concerning Awareness of Heartworm Disease and the Standard Dog Licensing Form, which requires the dog licensing form to confirm whether a dog has received the correct preventative medications.
“I had watched many committee meetings on TV before I even had this idea, since they always seemed so interesting, with all of the different points of view,” she said. “But I didn’t know what to expect.”
She proposed the bill in January 2014, and the Connecticut Agriculture Department decided to make the change in December 2014. Next, she plans to lobby for this change to be made in southern states, where heartworm is most prevalent.
Right now, Wags 4 Hope is a one-woman show–and a lot of work. In addition to painting portraits and pushing for new legislation, Annie takes “pet responsibility crafts” to local libraries to teach kids how to properly care for their pets.
She also started a Wags 4 Hope club at her high school, Fairfield Ward. Together, those 50 students raise funds for local shelters and rescues by holding bake sales and donation drives. Ideally, she says, Wags 4 Hope clubs will soon be operating in a number of different schools.
To keep up with this devoted dog advocate and all their future successes, follow Annie and Teddy on Facebook.
(WATCH Amy testify in the video below):
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