Bill Foundation's Annie Hart: "Rescuing Dogs Rescued Me"
In the fall of 2010, I was working at a top advertising agency and had recently been appointed a director. I spent my days with true creative geniuses, and I was living the American dream. Only, I was miserable. I didn’t like the job, and I never saw my husband, James. No amount of money or recognition was making that better.
Then I started to get sick. It started with severe jaw and ear pain and a constant migraine, followed by insomnia, stomach issues, and full-body pain. I had some bizarre weight gain. My personality shifted and suddenly I was constantly angry and confused; I could not even remember what day it was.
I went on medical leave and endured six months of exhaustive diagnostics and 20 specialists before I got my diagnosis: I have fibromyalgia and a severe sleep disorder that causes me to wake up 27 times an HOUR. While there is no cure, both can be treated.
I vividly recall sitting in my therapist's office, crying, “Why me?” In the middle of my pity party, my therapist stopped me and said, “You are not owed a perfect, healthy life. So stop thinking you’re special just because life has handed you some hurdles."
He went on to say that even though I had no energy, I needed to find something to do. He asked what I would do if money wasn’t an object, I was healthy, and I could just do what I loved. No one had ever asked me that before.
My husband and I talked a lot about this, and the single thing we kept coming back to was my love of dogs. Maybe I could help a rescue? Stephanie, a friend and vet tech, introduced me to Jo Forman, the founder of Bill Foundation, which resuces dogs and places them in adoptive families.
When I first met Jo, I felt like I had known her forever. She needed a lot of help at the shelter. I began by meeting with her twice a week for two hours at a time, but that was all I could handle. Going to a shelter was just too much for me.
This is when I met a dog named Ralph. Eldad Hagar (of Hope for Paws), an animal rescuer who is well known for his rescue videos and his gentle way of capturing dogs, rescued the very scared and aggressive street dog.
I watched the video of Ralph’s rescue probably 20 times that first night. I wanted to help and be a part of Ralph’s story.
I spent time with Ralph where he was boarding and he behaved like a complete gentleman, but when I turned my back to leave, he panicked. He bit my calf, latched hard on, and would not let go.
For about 10 seconds, I was frozen while someone tried to get him off me. I was left with a deep wound, but what surprised me was that I was not mad. I felt sad for Ralph and what he must have been through to be so scared about people leaving him. Even though he fought like crazy against being saved, he was blessed to have some wonderful people around him now.
I felt a deep connection to Ralph and knew that I was also blessed to have people in my life who didn't give up on me at my sickest point and truly saved me. Instantly I knew that this was what I was meant to do with my life: To help dogs like Ralph get the second chance they so richly deserved.
I suddenly found myself begging to go to the shelter with Jo, and though it was hard, the satisfaction of saving an innocent soul made the hardship worth it.
In July, I received a plea to rescue a Shih Tzu and her four-day-old puppies from the shelter. She was severely matted and struggled to nurse her babies. I called Eldad and asked for his help making a video of the rescue in an attempt to raise money for Bill Foundation. His advice was to grab my camera and just start shooting. So I did, and the video went viral and has been viewed more than two million times worldwide.
In September I gladly accepted the full-time position of executive director for Bill Foundation. It has been quite a ride, and I know the journey is just beginning. I still have fibromyalgia and a severe sleep disorder and must tread carefully with how much I work. I have some bad days when getting out of bed is not an option, but I also have really good days -- and knowing that I have countless dogs depending on me means I am forced to take care of myself.
In my heart of hearts, I know that getting sick was a blessing. It guided me in my search for happiness and, ultimately, my calling. When money (in rescue there is none) and recognition (in life, I prefer none) is not a motivation, you get the chance to seek out your mission in life. Not all are moved to do so, but with the support of my amazing husband, I went searching.
Bill Foundation has given me a second chance at life, and rescuing dogs has filled the void in my heart. I am forever changed. While many people say I am a rescuer of dogs, the truth is that dogs rescued me.
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