Oftentimes, the pets who come into our lives bring us so much love and companionship that when we lose them, the hole in our hearts can be hard to fill. And while we cannot bring a pet back when he or she has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, many pet owners look for ways to honor their pet’s memory and keep his or her spirit alive.
When Mark and Wanda Shefts lost their two Labrador Retrievers — Onyx and Breezy — within seven weeks of each other in 2004, they knew they wanted to find a way to keep the love they had for their dogs alive by helping other animals.
To do so, they founded The Onyx and Breezy Foundation, which, through donations, provides financial support to “credible organizations and individuals that benefit the welfare of animals.” Each grant request that comes in is carefully reviewed before being accepted, and Mark Shefts says the foundation receives multiple requests per day — many for veterinary care and medicine that pet owners cannot afford for their pets themselves.
And because many of the requests for financial aid are urgent, Mark tries to turn around completed applications the same day or within a few days of them coming in. But with all the inquiries the foundation gets, Mark stresses that incomplete applications will not be reviewed.
Since its creation in 2004, The Onyx and Breezy Foundation has helped save tens of thousands of animals in a variety of ways: from spay/neuter programs, to getting dogs on death row out of high-kill shelters, to providing emergency medical care to animals whose owners have fallen on hard times.
“I remember a young woman who was dying of cancer and her dog needed life-saving surgery, which [she] did not have the money for,” Mark says when asked if any of the animals his foundation has helped really sticks out in his mind. “The foundation paid for the surgery, and she had her fur baby next to her until the day she died. It still brings tears to our eyes.”
And just who were these beloved family pets that inspired the Shefts to set up a foundation in their name?
The Shefts got Onyx as a puppy, and say that “the moment she came into our lives, we learned of a new happiness and love that we never knew before.”
The beautiful black Lab loved to play but didn’t like the water as most Labs do, and she was as smart as she was loving towards her family. Onyx passed away on September 1, 2004, at 13, and the Shefts write on the foundation’s website that “words cannot describe the loss and void we still feel to this day. She is in our hearts, and through this foundation, she will live on forever.”
As for Breezy, he was a black Lab puppy who came to live with Onyx and the Shefts in 1997, when Onyx was six years old. Her nickname was “Sugar” because of her sweet disposition, and even when she was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor at the age of five and having to undergo many tests and treatment, she stayed as loving and gentle as before.
Breezy passed away of cancer in Wanda Shefts’ arms at the age of seven. The Shefts write that she “engraved a special place in our hearts with her courage and will to live. She was an inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to know her.”
And part of the way that the Shefts have been sure to honor their dogs’ memory — and especially Breezy’s — is by helping fund the ongoing lymphoma vaccine trial at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where Breezy received treatment for her cancer. The veterinary school claims that the results of the study could have have direct implications on human cancer patients as well, thus “helping dogs, help people.”
The Shefts are proud to say that that everyone involved with the foundation is a volunteer and that 100 percent of donations received go directly to help the animals.
“Not one penny comes out of the [donations] for administration or fund raising. [That] is paid for by the trustees or by individual/corporate sponsors,” says Mark.
But, like any foundation or charitable organization, the biggest challenge they face is keeping the donations coming in.
“We cannot continue our work without donations,” Mark urges. “We never want to turn away a qualified applicant because of lack of money. No donation is too small.”
If you would like to help out the foundation, please consider donating through its website so that it can continue to provide support to animals in need. You can also “like” the official Facebook page to learn more about the pets the foundation has helped.
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom on Twitter.
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