California Dogster Sweetheart Helps Heal Burn Survivors, Now Wants to Help Troops
What a brave dog and what loving pet parents! Sweetheart's Dogster page has more information on her story and photos demonstrating her recovery. And check out the great fur family photos!
Please keep us all informed on Sweetheart's new mission.
Dog heals others
SILVER LAKES In June, burn survivors recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, will be introduced to a new kind of medical treatment straight from Silver Lakes.
Meet Sweetheart, a 29-pound beagle that understands burn injuries better than most people.
Eight years ago, two teenagers in Apple Valley poured gasoline on her and set her afire.
Another youngster living nearby heard the dogs cries, saw flames and called the police.
The boy put out the fire and rescued Sweetheart, but she was burned on 70 percent of her body.
The next day, she was taken to Dr. Rick Mori, an Apple Valley veterinarian with a reputation for helping stray animals.
Mori performed $8,000 worth of surgery with the assistance of a friend he brought out from New York to do skin grafts.
When asked why he did so much for Sweetheart, he answered with a story.
During Moris first examination of Sweetheart, he put his hand on her head and noticed her tail began thumping, in spite of terrible pain.
He knew she had the will to live.
Sweethearts story became a local sensation, and more than 100 people inquired about adopting her. Among them was an occupational therapist, Barbara Haunsen, who was a burn survivor from three years before.
Haunsen had fallen into depression and drug abuse but was inspired by the story of Sweetheart when she read about it in the paper.
Although the animal hospital told her she was No. 99 on the list to adopt Sweetheart, that didnt stop her from coming in every day to care for the dog and provide recuperative therapy.
The hospital staff decided Haunsen should adopt Sweetheart when the time came.
She healed Sweetheart, and Sweetheart healed her," says Sweethearts therapy dog trainer, Charlie Brugnola of Silver Lakes.
A year later, Haunsen contacted Brugnola about training Sweetheart to be a therapy dog and help other burn survivors.
Brugnola was impressed with Sweethearts spirit and trained her for free.
Shes a very happy dog. Her tail wags constantly. Shes sweet and very interested in people. She loves people and loves the attention," Brugnola says.
A year later, the atrocities of Sept. 11 occurred, and Brugnola drove Sweetheart and his therapy dogs to New York City to comfort survivors, many of whom suffered burns. There they did therapy work with families of survivors, police, fire and military personnel.
Everyone was amazed at Sweetheart. It was almost like it took the burden of grieving off of them and gave them something else to think about," Brugnola says.
People were still in shock, but when they saw our dogs, they would smile and hug them and cry and do that final release. It was very amazing."
Another year passed and Sweethearts owner had to move. She decided that Sweetheart needed to be with Brugnola so she could have frequent opportunities to visit burn survivors.
Over the years, Sweethearts loving, spirited personality has inspired many burn survivors, and now Brugnola has a new mission in mind for her: American troops.
His wife will take a leave of absence from her UPS job, and supporters are donating funds to support them and the dogs care while they are in Texas in June.
Brugnola intends to be there for a month and will e-mail back frequent updates about Sweethearts work to her many sponsors.
When people hear what were doing, their eyes shine; they get this warm feeling. There is this need we all feel to help the vets. Theres the feeling that theres going to be a lot of them. And people want to help."
If you would like to know more about helping to send Sweetheart to Brooke Army Medical Center, call Charlie Brugnola at 952-2416.