It’s amazing what kids, big or small, can accomplish. Annie B. is a perfect example of this. I was introduced to Annie by my friends Jess & Sean, fellow animal lovers and co-founders of Kind Traveler. In 2012, after rescuing her dog Teddy from a kill shelter and discovering he suffered from Heartworm disease, Annie (then age 13) was inspired to create her own nonprofit, Wags 4 Hope. Since then she has raised almost $40,000 for animal shelters across the country to help fight Heartworm disease, which is spread through mosquito bites and can be fatal. One of the ways she raises money is to paint portraits of dogs for people. Scroll down to see some great examples.
Recently, Annie was featured on ABC News & Good Morning America because she is fighting to pass HB-5422, a bill addressing awareness of heartworm disease, including trying to add that dogs receive Heartworm prevention medication with their dog licenses.
Q & A WITH ANNIE
What inspired you to create Wags 4 Hope?
In the spring of 2012, my family adopted Teddy from Shaggy Dog Rescue in Houston, Texas. The owner of Shaggy Dog Rescue, Kathy Wetmore, is truly wonderful. She goes into shelters in Texas and takes as many dogs as she can and then finds them homes all across the country. She is very particular with where her dogs end up, as she wants them to never be found in a shelter again. She is truly an inspiration. Teddy was rescued from BARC, a high-kill shelter. I learned that the animals there had labels on the order in which they were going to be put down. Dogs with heartworm were at the top of the list, since treatment is very expensive and it is a long painful process to recovery. The picture of Teddy on his shelter form broke my heart as they had the day he was planned to be put down, because he had heartworm. The picture still sticks with me. You hear about animal issues ranging from “adopt don’t shop” to animal testing, but you never really hear about heartworm. I did more research on heartworm and discovered that roughly 45 % of dogs are unprotected (the number keeps rising) and that over a million dogs have it across the country. A couple of days later, a painting I did of an Old English sheepdog was featured in a local art show. When I went to look for my painting there were a couple of people standing around it, talking about how adorable it was. They told me that they would buy it if I were to sell it. I went home that night. At the time, I was playing soccer 5-6 days a week, thinking about Teddy’s experience. He was in a cage for more than a month once before being rescued by Kathy Wetmore. He had to go to the vet many times and had to remain still in his crate, as arsenic is part of the treatment. (Teddy was treated by Ms. Wetmore). As I was putting on my soccer shoes that night, Teddy was wagging so fast and jumping everywhere. I realized at that very moment that there are so many animals out there like Teddy that can be saved from this disease. I decided that I could sell my animal paintings and give 100% of the proceeds to shelters and rescue groups to help pay for their animals’ medical expenses, so more animals can be saved. Teddy’s “wagging” gave me hope that I could make a difference. I stopped playing soccer to put all of my free time into my cause. At first, I thought I would support just a few dogs and possibly reach a hundred people about my story, as I was not too sure how to run a non-profit… It is so exciting that Wags 4 Hope is so much bigger than I have imagined, and it really just brings a smile to my face knowing how many paintings I have sold/donated, how many people I have helped educate. There are even 50 amazing students at my high school in a Wags 4 Hope club which works to also raise funds for shelters in our community!
How long does it take you to make one painting?
During the school year, I am quite busy with schoolwork, so I try to get a painting done within a three-month period. I just received a lot of orders in December after being featured on Peace and Paws Dog Rescue’s facebook page! So, I am hoping to finish all of my orders from their followers in July (I cannot wait for the school year to end to get started on those!). Over the summer is really when I finish a painting within a couple of days.
Can you tell my readers what heartworm disease is and how to prevent it in their dogs?
Mosquitoes transmit larvae to dogs and cats that grow into long worms. (They look like spaghetti once the larvae transmitted from the mosquitoes grows). Heartworm disease can affect the heart, lungs, and arteries. An obvious indication that your pet is infected is with a mild cough. Treatment is a very long, painful process. Most dogs that have heartworm are luckily cured, however in some cases one might not survive. Cats also can get heartworm. This disease is completely preventable with a monthly heartworm preventative. A great resource to learn more information is the American Heartworm Society. This is a resource center for many vets. They named Teddy and I “Heartworm Heroes”.
What is your organization’s greatest accomplishment?
I lobbied for over a year in Hartford, CT to have a heartworm message on the Connecticut Dog Licensing form. I believed this would be an incredible avenue to spread education, since every single pet owner in the state of Connecticut needs to register their dog annually using this form. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks after my public hearing I was told my bill did not pass. Animal legislation is really difficult to get through. It only made me work harder to stay in touch with the Agriculture Department, to send more letters of support from local shelters and vets, and to keep believing that at age 15, I had the power to really make this difference for dogs in Connecticut. The Agriculture Department called me a couple of months ago and decided that they would go through with my idea. Connecticut is now the first state to have any sort of pet responsibility message besides the requirements on the license. I also drew a mutt on the license to encourage rescuing an animal. So cool! The last time the Dog License was changed was over 7 years ago. The form will be available state-wide. They have ordered 100,000 copies to be printed. (Once it comes out I will be running to my town-hall to see it in person, although some copies were sent in the mail to me a couple of days ago!). I cannot thank the Agriculture Department enough for seeing the importance of this. I hope that this will inspire other states to take this measure to protect our furry friends. Also, I get so excited when magazines feature Wags 4 Hope from different places, since it conveys that we really have the power to reach a lot of pet owners about Teddy’s story and my mission.
Can you tell us about your own pets?
My mom has major allergies, so our family can only have hypoallergenic pets. Teddy is our only furry friend as of now. But, when I am older, I would love to rescue more dogs and eventually own a cat!
How can people get involved?
Anyone that is interested in helping can send me an email to donate at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can visit my website www.wags4hope.org and follow Wags 4 Hope on facebook for updates! Teddy also has his own blog Teddy’s Tales where he shares an update each month on his adventures and reminds pet owners to give their furry friend their preventative.
Thank you to Annie B., Wags 4 Hope and Teddy! To order a painting of your pet to help the heartworm prevention cause, visit www.wags4hope.org.
Do you do charity work or volunteer on behalf of animals? Or, do you have a favorite animal charity? I’d love to hear about them. Just leave a comment here or on our facebook page!